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Title: Venetian Life
Author: Howells, William Dean
Language: English
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By William Dean Howells


In correcting this book for a second edition, I have sought to complete
it without altering its original plan: I have given a new chapter
sketching the history of Venetian Commerce and noticing the present
trade and industry of Venice; I have amplified somewhat the chapter on
the national holidays, and have affixed an index to the chief historical
persons, incidents, and places mentioned.

Believing that such value as my book may have is in fidelity to what
I actually saw and knew of Venice, I have not attempted to follow
speculatively the grand and happy events of last summer in their effects
upon her life. Indeed, I fancy that in the traits at which I loved most
to look, the life of Venice is not so much changed as her fortunes; but
at any rate I am content to remain true to what was fact one year ago.

W. D. H.

Cambridge, January 1, 1867.


   I. Venice in Venice
   II. Arrival and first Days in Venice
   III. The Winter in Venice
   IV. Comincia far Caldo
   V. Opera and Theatres
   VI. Venetian Dinners and Diners
   VII. Housekeeping in Venice
   VIII. The Balcony on the Grand Canal
   IX. A Day-Break Ramble
   X. The Mouse
   XI. Churches and Pictures
   XII. Some Islands of the Lagoons
   XIII. The Armenians
   XIV. The Ghetto and the Jews of Venice
   XV. Some Memorable Places
   XVI. Commerce
   XVII. Venetian Holidays
   XVIII. Christmas Holidays
   XIX. Love-making and Marrying; Baptisms and Burials
   XX. Venetian Traits and Characters
   XXI. Society
   XXII. Our Last Year in Venice



One night at the little theatre in Padua, the ticket-seller gave us the
stage-box (of which he made a great merit), and so we saw the play and
the byplay. The prompter, as noted from our point of view, bore a chief
part in the drama (as indeed the prompter always does in the Italian
theatre), and the scene-shifters appeared as prominent characters.
We could not help seeing the virtuous wife, when hotly pursued by the
villain of the piece, pause calmly in the wings, before rushing, all
tears and desperation, upon the stage; and we were dismayed to behold
the injured husband and his abandoned foe playfully scuffling behind the
scenes. All the shabbiness of the theatre was perfectly apparent to
us; we saw the grossness of the painting and the unreality of the
properties. And yet I cannot say that the play lost one whit of its
charm for me, or that the working of the machinery and its inevitable
clumsiness disturbed my enjoyment in the least. There was so much truth
and beauty in the playing, that I did not care for the sham of the ropes
and gilding, and presently ceased to take any note of them. The illusion
which I had thought an essential in the dramatic spectacle, turned out
to be a condition of small importance.

It has sometimes seemed to me as if fortune had given me a stage-box
at another and grander spectacle, and I had been suffered to see this
VENICE, which is to other cities like the pleasant improbability of the
theatre to every-day, commonplace life, to much the same effect as that
melodrama in Padua. I could not, indeed, dwell three years in the place
without learning to know it differently from those writers who have
described it in romances, poems, and hurried books of travel, nor help
seeing from my point of observation the sham and cheapness with which
Venice is usually brought out, if I may so speak, in literature. At the
same time, it has never lost for me its claim upon constant surprise
and regard, nor the fascination of its excellent beauty, its peerless
picturesqueness, its sole and wondrous grandeur. It is true that the
streets in Venice are canals; and yet you can walk to any part of the
city, and need not take boat whenever you go out of doors, as I once
fondly thought you must. But after all, though I find dry land enough
in it, I do not find the place less unique, less a mystery, or less a
charm. By day, the canals are still the main thoroughfares; and if
these avenues are not so full of light and color as some would have us
believe, they, at least, do not smell so offensively as others pretend.
And by night, they are still as dark and silent as when the secret
vengeance of the Republic plunged its victims into the ungossiping
depths of the Canalazzo!

Did the vengeance of the Republic ever do any such thing?

Possibly. In Venice one learns not quite to question that reputation
for vindictive and gloomy cruelty alien historians have given to a
government which endured so many centuries in the willing obedience
of its subjects; but to think that the careful student of the old
Republican system will condemn it for faults far different from those
for which it is chiefly blamed. At all events, I find it hard to
understand why, if the Republic was an oligarchy utterly selfish and
despotic, it has left to all classes of Venetians so much regret and
sorrow for its fall.

So, if the reader care to follow me to my stage-box, I imagine he will
hardly see the curtain rise upon just the Venice of his dreams--the
Venice of Byron, of Rogers, and Cooper; or upon the Venice of his
prejudices--the merciless Venice of Darù, and of the historians who
follow him. But I still hope that he will be pleased with the Venice he
sees; and will think with me that the place loses little in the illusion
removed; and--to take leave of our theatrical metaphor--I promise to
fatigue him with no affairs of my own, except as allusion to them may
go to illustrate Life in Venice; and positively he shall suffer no
annoyance from the fleas and bugs which, in Latin countries, so often
get from travelers’ beds into their books.

Let us mention here at the beginning some of the sentimental errors
concerning the place, with which we need not trouble ourselves
hereafter, but which no doubt form a large part of every one’s
associations with the name of Venice. Let us take, for example, that
pathetic swindle, the Bridge of Sighs. There are few, I fancy, who will
hear it mentioned without connecting its mystery and secrecy with the
taciturn justice of the Three, or some other cruel machinery of the
Serenest Republic’s policy. When I entered it the first time I was at
the pains to call about me the sad company of those who had passed its
corridors from imprisonment to death; and, I doubt not, many excellent
tourists have done the same. I was somewhat ashamed to learn afterward
that I had, on this occasion, been in very low society, and that the
melancholy assemblage which I then conjured up was composed entirely
of honest rogues, who might indeed have given as graceful and ingenious
excuses for being in misfortune as the galley-slaves rescued by Don
Quixote,--who might even have been very picturesque,--but who were not
at all the material with which a well-regulated imagination would deal.
The Bridge of Sighs was not built till the end of the sixteenth century,
and no romantic episode of political imprisonment and punishment (except
that of Antonio Foscarini) occurs in Venetian history later than that
period. But the Bridge of Sighs could have nowise a savor of sentiment
from any such episode, being, as it was, merely a means of communication
between the Criminal Courts sitting in the Ducal Palace, and the
Criminal Prison across the little canal. Housebreakers, cut-purse
knaves, and murderers do not commonly impart a poetic interest to places
which have known them; and yet these are the only sufferers on whose
Bridge of Sighs the whole sentimental world has looked with pathetic
sensation ever since Byron drew attention to it. The name of the bridge
was given by the people from that opulence of compassion which enables
the Italians to pity even rascality in difficulties. [Footnote: The
reader will remember that Mr. Ruskin has said in a few words, much
better than I have said in many, the same thing of sentimental errors
about Venice:--

“The Venice of modern fiction and drama is a thing of yesterday, a mere
efflorescence of decay, a stage-dream, which the first ray of daylight
must dissipate into dust. No prisoner whose name is worth remembering,
or whose sorrows deserved sympathy, ever crossed that Bridge of Sighs,
which is the centre of the Byronic ideal of Venice; no great merchant
of Venice ever saw that Rialto under which the traveler now pauses with
breathless interest; the statue which Byron makes Faliero address at one
of his great ancestors, was erected to a soldier of fortune a hundred
and fifty years after Faliero’s death.”--_Stories of Venice_.]

Political offenders were not confined in the “prison on each hand” of
the poet, but in the famous _pozzi_ (literally, wells) or dungeons under
the Ducal Palace. And what fables concerning these cells have not been
uttered and believed! For my part, I prepared my coldest chills for
their exploration, and I am not sure that before I entered their gloom
some foolish and lying literature was not shaping itself in my mind, to
be afterward written out as my Emotions on looking at them. I do not say
now that they are calculated to enamor the unimpounded spectator with
prison-life; but they are certainly far from being as bad as I hoped.
They are not joyously light nor particularly airy, but their occupants
could have suffered no extreme physical discomfort; and the thick wooden
casing of the interior walls evidences at least the intention of the
state to inflict no wanton hardships of cold and damp.

But on whose account had I to be interested in the _pozzi_? It was
difficult to learn, unless I took the word of sentimental hearsay.
I began with Marin Falier, but history would not permit the doge to
languish in these dungeons for a moment. He was imprisoned in the
apartments of state, and during one night only. His fellow-conspirators
were hanged nearly as fast as taken.

Failing so signally with Falier, I tried several other political
prisoners of sad and famous memory with scarcely better effect. To a
man, they struggled to shun the illustrious captivity designed them, and
escaped from the _pozzi_ by every artifice of fact and figure.

The Carraras of Padua were put to death in the city of Venice, and their
story is the most pathetic and romantic in Venetian history. But it
was not the cells under the Ducal Palace which witnessed their cruel
taking-off: they were strangled in the prison formerly existing at
the top of the palace, called the Torresella. [Footnote: Galliciolli,
_Memorie Venete_.] It is possible, however, that Jacopo Foscari may have
been confined in the _pozzi_ at different times about the middle of the
fifteenth century. With his fate alone, then, can the horror of these
cells be satisfactorily associated by those who relish the dark romance
of Venetian annals; for it is not to be expected that the less tragic
fortunes of Carlo Zeno and Vittore Pisani, who may also have been
imprisoned in the _pozzi_, can move the true sentimentalizer. Certainly,
there has been anguish enough in the prisons of the Ducal Palace, but we
know little of it by name, and cannot confidently relate it to any great
historic presence.

Touching the Giant’s Stairs in the court of the palace, the inexorable
dates would not permit me to rest in the delusion that the head of Marin
Falier had once bloodily stained them as it rolled to the ground--at the
end of Lord Byron’s tragedy. Nor could I keep unimpaired my vision of
the Chief of the Ten brandishing the sword of justice, as he proclaimed
the traitor’s death to the people from between the two red columns in
the southern gallery of the palace;--that façade was not built till
nearly a century later.

I suppose,--always judging by my own average experience,--that besides
these gloomy associations, the name of Venice will conjure up scenes of
brilliant and wanton gayety, and that in the foreground of the brightest
picture will be the Carnival of Venice, full of antic delight, romantic
adventure, and lawless prank. But the carnival, with all the old
merry-making life of the city, is now utterly obsolete, and, in this
way, the conventional, masquerading, pleasure-loving Venice is become
as gross a fiction as if, like that other conventional Venice of which
I have but spoken, it had never existed. There is no greater social
dullness and sadness, on land or sea, than in contemporary Venice.

The causes of this change lie partly in the altered character of the
whole world’s civilization, partly in the increasing poverty of the
city, doomed four hundred years ago to commercial decay, and chiefly
(the Venetians would be apt to tell you wholly) in the implacable anger,
the inconsolable discontent, with which the people regard their present
political condition.

If there be more than one opinion among men elsewhere concerning the
means by which Austria acquired Venetia and the tenure by which she
holds the province, there would certainly seem to be no division on the
question in Venice. To the stranger first inquiring into public feeling,
there is something almost sublime in the unanimity with which the
Venetians appear to believe that these means were iniquitous, and that
this tenure is abominable; and though shrewder study and carefuler
observation will develop some interested attachment to the present
government, and some interested opposition of it; though after-knowledge
will discover, in the hatred of Austria, enough meanness, lukewarmness,
and selfish ignorance to take off its sublimity, the hatred is still
found marvelously unanimous and bitter. I speak advisedly, and with no
disposition to discuss the question or exaggerate the fact. Exercising
at Venice official functions by permission and trust of the Austrian
government, I cannot regard the cessation of those functions as release
from obligations both to that government and my own, which render it
improper for me, so long as the Austrians remain in Venice, to criticize
their rule, or contribute, by comment on existing things, to embitter
the feeling against them elsewhere. I may, nevertheless, speak
dispassionately of facts of the abnormal social and political state of
the place; and I can certainly do this, for the present situation is
so disagreeable in many ways to the stranger forced to live there,--the
inappeasable hatred of the Austrians by the Italians is so illiberal in
application to those in any wise consorting with them, and so stupid and
puerile in many respects, that I think the annoyance which it gives
the foreigner might well damp any passion with which he was disposed to
speak of its cause.

This hatred of the Austrians dates in its intensity from the defeat of
patriotic hopes of union with Italy in 1859, when Napoleon found the
Adriatic at Peschiera, and the peace of Villafranca was concluded. But
it is not to be supposed that a feeling so general, and so thoroughly
interwoven with Venetian character, is altogether recent. Consigned to
the Austrians by Napoleon I., confirmed in the subjection into which she
fell a second time after Napoleon’s ruin, by the treaties of the Holy
Alliance, defeated in several attempts to throw off her yoke, and loaded
with heavier servitude after the fall of the short-lived Republic of
1849,--Venice has always hated her masters with an exasperation deepened
by each remove from the hope of independence, and she now detests them
with a rancor which no concession short of absolute relinquishment of
dominion would appease.

Instead, therefore, of finding that public gayety and private
hospitality in Venice for which the city was once famous, the stranger
finds himself planted between two hostile camps, with merely the choice
of sides open to him. Neutrality is solitude and friendship with neither
party; society is exclusive association with the Austrians or with the
Italians. The latter do not spare one of their own number if he
consorts with their masters, and though a foreigner might expect greater
allowance, it is seldom shown to him. To be seen in the company of
officers is enmity to Venetian freedom, and in the case of Italians it
is treason to country and to race. Of course, in a city where there is
a large garrison and a great many officers who have nothing else to
do, there is inevitably some international love-making, although
the Austrian officers are rigidly excluded from association with the
citizens. But the Italian who marries an Austrian severs the dearest
ties that bind her to life, and remains an exile in the heart of her
country. Her friends mercilessly cast her off, as they cast off every
body who associates with the dominant race. In rare cases I have known
Italians to receive foreigners who had Austrian friends, but this with
the explicit understanding that there was to be no sign of recognition
if they met them in the company of these detested acquaintance.

There are all degrees of intensity in Venetian hatred, and after hearing
certain persons pour out the gall of bitterness upon the Austrians, you
may chance to hear these persons spoken of as tepid in their patriotism
by yet more fiery haters. Yet it must not be supposed that the Italians
hate the Austrians as individuals. On the contrary, they have rather
a liking for them--rather a contemptuous liking, for they think them
somewhat slow and dull-witted--and individually the Austrians are
amiable people, and try not to give offence. The government is also very
strict in its control of the military. I have never seen the slightest
affront offered by a soldier to a citizen; and there is evidently no
personal ill-will engendered. The Austrians are simply hated as the
means by which an alien and despotic government is imposed upon a people
believing themselves born for freedom and independence. This hatred,
then, is a feeling purely political, and there is political machinery by
which it is kept in a state of perpetual tension.

The Comitato Veneto is a body of Venetians residing within the province
and abroad, who have charge of the Italian interests, and who work in
every way to promote union with the dominions of Victor Emanuel. They
live for the most part in Venice, where they have a secret press for the
publication of their addresses and proclamations, and where they remain
unknown to the police, upon whose spies they maintain an espionage. On
every occasion of interest, the Committee is sure to make its presence
felt; and from time to time persons find themselves in the possession
of its printed circulars, stamped with the Committee’s seal; but no one
knows how or whence they came. Constant arrests of suspected persons are
made, but no member of the Committee has yet been identified; and it is
said that the mysterious body has its agents in every department of the
government, who keep it informed of inimical action. The functions of
the Committee are multiplied and various. It takes care that on all
patriotic anniversaries (such as that of the establishment of the
Republic in 1848, and that of the union of the Italian States under
Victor Emanuel in 1860) salutes shall be fired in Venice, and a
proper number of red, white, and green lights displayed. It inscribes
revolutionary sentiments on the walls; and all attempts on the part
of the Austrians to revive popular festivities are frustrated by the
Committee, which causes petards to be exploded in the Place of St. Mark,
and on the different promenades. Even the churches are not exempt from
these demonstrations: I was present at the Te Deum performed on the
Emperor’s birthday, in St. Mark’s, when the moment of elevating the
host was signalized by the bursting of a petard in the centre of the
cathedral. All this, which seems of questionable utility, and worse than
questionable taste, is approved by the fiercer of the Italianissimi, and
though possibly the strictness of the patriotic discipline in which the
members of the Committee keep their fellow-citizens may gall some of
them, yet any public demonstration of content, such as going to the
opera, or to the Piazza while the Austrian band plays, is promptly
discontinued at a warning from the Committee. It is, of course, the
Committee’s business to keep the world informed of public feeling
in Venice, and of each new act of Austrian severity. Its members are
inflexible men, whose ability has been as frequently manifested as their

The Venetians are now, therefore, a nation in mourning, and have, as I
said, disused all their former pleasures and merry-makings. Every class,
except a small part of the resident _titled_ nobility (a great part
of the nobility is in either forced or voluntary exile), seems to be
comprehended by this feeling of despondency and suspense. The poor of
the city formerly found their respite and diversion in the numerous
holidays which fell in different parts of the year, and which, though
religious in their general character, were still inseparably bound up in
their origin with ideas of patriotism and national glory. Such of these
holidays as related to the victories and pride of the Republic naturally
ended with her fall. Many others, however, survived this event in all
their splendor, but there is not one celebrated now as in other days. It
is true that the churches still parade their pomps in the Piazza on the
day of Corpus Christi; it is true that the bridges of boats are still
built across the Canalazzo to the church of Our Lady of Salvation, and
across the Canal of the Giudecca to the temple of the Redeemer, on the
respective festivals of these churches; but the concourse is always
meagre, and the mirth is forced and ghastly. The Italianissimi have
so far imbued the people with their own ideas and feelings, that
the recurrence of the famous holidays now merely awakens them to
lamentations over the past and vague longings for the future.

As for the carnival, which once lasted six months of the year, charming
hither all the idlers of the world by its peculiar splendor and variety
of pleasure, it does not, as I said, any longer exist. It is dead, and
its shabby, wretched ghost is a party of beggars, hideously dressed
out with masks and horns and women’s habits, who go from shop to shop
droning forth a stupid song, and levying tribute upon the shopkeepers.
The crowd through which these melancholy jesters pass, regards them with
a pensive scorn, and goes about its business untempted by the delights
of carnival.

All other social amusements have shared in greater or less degree the
fate of the carnival. At some houses conversazioni are still held,
and it is impossible that balls and parties should not now and then
be given. But the greater number of the nobles and the richer of
the professional classes lead for the most part a life of listless
seclusion, and attempts to lighten the general gloom and heaviness
in any way are not looked upon with favor. By no sort of chance are
Austrians, or Austriacanti ever invited to participate in the pleasures
of Venetian society.

As the social life of Italy, and especially of Venice, was in great
part to be once enjoyed at the theatres, at the caffè, and at the other
places of public resort, so is its absence now to be chiefly noted in
those places. No lady of perfect standing among her people goes to
the opera, and the men never go in the boxes, but if they frequent the
theatre at all, they take places in the pit, in order that the house may
wear as empty and dispirited a look as possible. Occasionally a bomb is
exploded in the theatre, as a note of reminder, and as means of keeping
away such of the nobles as are not enemies of the government. As it is
less easy for the Austrians to participate in the diversion of comedy,
it is a less offence to attend the comedy, though even this is not good
Italianissimism. In regard to the caffè there is a perfectly understood
system by which the Austrians go to one, and the Italians to another;
and Florian’s, in the Piazza, seems to be the only common ground in the
city on which the hostile forces consent to meet. This is because it is
thronged with foreigners of all nations, and to go there is not thought
a demonstration of any kind. But the other caffè in the Piazza do not
enjoy Florian’s cosmopolitan immunity, and nothing would create more
wonder in Venice than to see an Austrian officer at the Specchi, unless,
indeed, it were the presence of a good Italian at the Quadri.

It is in the Piazza that the tacit demonstration of hatred and
discontent chiefly takes place. Here, thrice a week, in winter and
summer, the military band plays that exquisite music for which the
Austrians are famous. The selections are usually from Italian operas,
and the attraction is the hardest of all others for the music-loving
Italian to resist. But he does resist it. There are some noble ladies
who have not entered the Piazza while the band was playing there,
since the fall of the Republic of 1849; and none of good standing for
patriotism has attended the concerts since the treaty of Villafranca in
‘59. Until very lately, the promenaders in the Piazza were exclusively
foreigners, or else the families of such government officials as were
obliged to show themselves there. Last summer, however, before the
Franco-Italian convention for the evacuation of Rome revived the
drooping hopes of the Venetians, they had begun visibly to falter
in their long endurance. But this was, after all, only a slight and
transient weakness. As a general thing, now, they pass from the Piazza
when the music begins, and walk upon the long quay at the sea-side of
the Ducal Palace; or if they remain in the Piazza they pace up and
down under the arcades on either side; for Venetian patriotism makes
a delicate distinction between listening to the Austrian band in the
Piazza and hearing it under the Procuratie, forbidding the first
and permitting the last. As soon as the music ceases the Austrians
disappear, and the Italians return to the Piazza.

But since the catalogue of demonstrations cannot be made full, it need
not be made any longer. The political feeling in Venice affects her
prosperity in a far greater degree than may appear to those who do not
understand how large an income the city formerly derived from making
merry. The poor have to lament not merely the loss of their holidays,
but also of the fat employments and bountiful largess which these
occasions threw into their hands. With the exile or the seclusion of the
richer families, and the reluctance of foreigners to make a residence
of the gloomy and dejected city, the trade of the shopkeepers has fallen
off; the larger commerce of the place has also languished and dwindled
year by year; while the cost of living has constantly increased, and
heavier burdens of taxation have been laid upon the impoverished and
despondent people. And in all this, Venice is but a type of the whole
province of Venetia.

The alien life to be found in the city is scarcely worth noting. The
Austrians have a _casino_, and they give balls and parties, and now and
then make some public manifestation of gayety. But they detest Venice as
a place of residence, being naturally averse to living in the midst of a
people who shun them like a pestilence. Other foreigners, as I said, are
obliged to take sides for or against the Venetians, and it is amusing
enough to find the few English residents divided into Austriacanti and
Italianissimi. [Footnote: Austriacanti are people of Austrian politics,
though not of Austrian birth. Italianissimi are those who favor union
with Italy at any cost.]

Even the consuls of the different nations, who are in every way bound to
neutrality and indifference, are popularly reputed to be of one party or
the other, and my predecessor, whose unhappy knowledge of German threw
him on his arrival among people of that race, was always regarded as the
enemy of Venetian freedom, though I believe his principles were of the
most vivid republican tint in the United States.

The present situation has now endured five years, with only slight
modifications by time, and only faint murmurs from some of the more
impatient, that _bisogna, una volta o l’altra, romper il chiodo_,
(sooner or later the nail must be broken.) As the Venetians are a people
of indomitable perseverance, long schooled to obstinacy by oppression,
I suppose they will hold out till their union with the kingdom of Italy.
They can do nothing of themselves, but they seem content to wait forever
in their present gloom. How deeply their attitude affects their national
character I shall inquire hereafter, when I come to look somewhat more
closely at the spirit of their demonstration.

For the present, it is certain that the discontent of the people has its
peculiar effect upon the city as the stranger sees its life, casting a
glamour over it all, making it more and more ghostly and sad, and giving
it a pathetic charm which I would fain transfer to my pages; but failing
that, would pray the reader to remember as a fact to which I must be
faithful in all my descriptions of Venice.



I think it does not matter just when I first came to Venice. Yesterday
and to-day are the same here. I arrived one winter morning about five
o’clock, and was not so full of Soul as I might have been in warmer
weather. Yet I was resolved not to go to my hotel in the omnibus (the
large, many-seated boat so called), but to have a gondola solely for
myself and my luggage. The porter who seized my valise in the station,
inferred from some very polyglottic Italian of mine the nature of
my wish, and ran out and threw that slender piece of luggage into a
gondola. I followed, lighted to my seat by a beggar in picturesque and
desultory costume. He was one of a class of mendicants whom I came, for
my sins, to know better in Venice, and whom I dare say every traveler
recollects,--the merciless tribe who hold your gondola to shore, and
affect to do you a service and not a displeasure, and pretend not to
be abandoned swindlers. The Venetians call them _gransieri_, or
crab-catchers; but as yet I did not know the name or the purpose of this
_poverino_ [Footnote: _Poverino_ is the compassionate generic for all
unhappy persons who work for a living in Venice, as well as many who
decline to do so.] at the station, but merely saw that he had the
Venetian eye for color: in the distribution and arrangement of his
fragments of dress he had produced some miraculous effects of red, and
he was altogether as infamous a figure as any friend of brigands would
like to meet in a lonely place. He did not offer to stab me and sink
my body in the Grand Canal, as, in all Venetian keeping, I felt that
he ought to have done; but he implored an alms, and I hardly know now
whether to exult or regret that I did not understand him, and left him
empty-handed. I suppose that he withdrew again the blessings which he
had advanced me, as we pushed out into the canal; but I heard nothing,
for the wonder of the city was already upon me. All my nether-spirit, so
to speak, was dulled and jaded by the long, cold, railway journey
from Vienna, while every surface-sense was taken and tangled in the
bewildering brilliancy and novelty of Venice. For I think there can be
nothing else in the world so full of glittering and exquisite surprise,
as that first glimpse of Venice which the traveler catches as he
issues from the railway station by night, and looks upon her peerless
strangeness. There is something in the blessed breath of Italy (how
quickly, coming south, you know it, and how bland it is, after the
harsh, transalpine air!) which prepares you for your nocturnal advent
into the place; and O you! whoever you are, that journey toward this
enchanted city for the first time, let me tell you how happy I count
you! There lies before you for your pleasure, the spectacle of
such singular beauty as no picture can ever show you nor book tell
you,--beauty which you shall feel perfectly but once, and regret

For my own part, as the gondola slipped away from the blaze and bustle
of the station down the gloom and silence of the broad canal, I forgot
that I had been freezing two days and nights; that I was at that moment
very cold and a little homesick. I could at first feel nothing but that
beautiful silence, broken only by the star-silvered dip of the oars.
Then on either hand I saw stately palaces rise gray and lofty from the
dark waters, holding here and there a lamp against their faces, which
brought balconies, and columns, and carven arches into momentary relief,
and threw long streams of crimson into the canal. I could see by that
uncertain glimmer how fair was all, but not how sad and old; and so,
unhaunted by any pang for the decay that afterward saddened me amid the
forlorn beauty of Venice, I glided on. I have no doubt it was a proper
time to think all the fantastic things in the world, and I thought them;
but they passed vaguely through my mind, without at all interrupting the
sensations of sight and sound. Indeed, the past and present mixed there,
and the moral and material were blent in the sentiment of utter novelty
and surprise. The quick boat slid through old troubles of mine, and
unlooked-for events gave it the impulse that carried it beyond, and
safely around sharp corners of life. And all the while I knew that this
was a progress through narrow and crooked canals, and past marble angles
of palaces. But I did not know then that this fine confusion of sense
and spirit was the first faint impression of the charm of life in

Dark, funereal barges like my own had flitted by, and the gondoliers had
warned each other at every turning with hoarse, lugubrious cries; the
lines of balconied palaces had never ended;--here and there at
their doors larger craft were moored, with dim figures of men moving
uncertainly about on them. At last we had passed abruptly out of the
Grand Canal into one of the smaller channels, and from comparative light
into a darkness only remotely affected by some far-streaming corner
lamp. But always the pallid, stately palaces; always the dark heaven
with its trembling stars above, and the dark water with its trembling
stars below; but now innumerable bridges, and an utter lonesomeness,
and ceaseless sudden turns and windings. One could not resist a vague
feeling of anxiety, in these strait and solitary passages, which was
part of the strange enjoyment of the time, and which was referable to
the novelty, the hush, the darkness, and the piratical appearance and
unaccountable pauses of the gondoliers. Was not this Venice, and is not
Venice forever associated with bravoes and unexpected dagger-thrusts?
That valise of mine might represent fabulous wealth to the uncultivated
imagination. Who, if I made an outcry, could understand the Facts of the
Situation--(as we say in the journals)? To move on was relief; to pause
was regret for past transgressions mingled with good resolutions for the
future. But I felt the liveliest mixture of all these emotions, when,
slipping from the cover of a bridge, the gondola suddenly rested at the
foot of a stairway before a closely-barred door. The gondoliers rang and
rang again, while their passenger

    “Divided the swift mind,”

in the wonder whether a door so grimly bolted and austerely barred could
possibly open into a hotel, with cheerful overcharges for candles
and service. But as soon as the door opened, and he beheld the honest
swindling countenance of a hotel _portier_, he felt secure against every
thing but imposture, and all wild absurdities of doubt and conjecture at
once faded from his thought, when the _portier_ suffered the gondoliers
to make him pay a florin too much.

So, I had arrived in Venice, and I had felt the influence of that
complex spell which she lays upon the stranger. I had caught the most
alluring glimpses of the beauty which cannot wholly perish while any
fragment of her sculptured walls nods to its shadow in the canal; I had
been penetrated by a deep sense of the mystery of the place, and I had
been touched already by the anomaly of modern life amid scenes where its
presence offers, according to the humor in which it is studied, constant
occasion for annoyance or delight, enthusiasm or sadness.

I fancy that the ignorant impressions of the earlier days after my
arrival need scarcely be set down even in this perishable record; but I
would not wholly forget how, though isolated from all acquaintance and
alien to the place, I yet felt curiously at home in Venice from the
first. I believe it was because I had, after my own fashion, loved the
beautiful that I here found the beautiful, where it is supreme, full
of society and friendship, speaking a language which, even in its
unfamiliar forms, I could partly understand, and at once making me
citizen of that Venice from which I shall never be exiled. It was not in
the presence of the great and famous monuments of art alone that I felt
at home--indeed, I could as yet understand their excellence and grandeur
only very imperfectly--but wherever I wandered through the quaint and
marvelous city, I found the good company of

    “The fair, the old;”

and to tell the truth, I think it is the best society in Venice, and
I learned to turn to it later from other companionship with a kind of

My first rambles, moreover, had a peculiar charm which knowledge of
locality has since taken away. They began commonly with some purpose or
destination, and ended by losing me in the intricacies of the narrowest,
crookedest, and most inconsequent little streets in the world, or left
me cast-away upon the unfamiliar waters of some canal as far as possible
from the point aimed at. Dark and secret little courts lay in wait for
my blundering steps, and I was incessantly surprised and brought to
surrender by paths that beguiled me up to dead walls, or the sudden
brinks of canals. The wide and open squares before the innumerable
churches of the city were equally victorious, and continually took me
prisoner. But all places had something rare and worthy to be seen:
if not loveliness of sculpture or architecture, at least interesting
squalor and picturesque wretchedness: and I believe I had less delight
in proper Objects of Interest than in the dirty neighborhoods that
reeked with unwholesome winter damps below, and peered curiously out
with frowzy heads and beautiful eyes from the high, heavy-shuttered
casements above. Every court had its carven well to show me, in the
noisy keeping of the water-carriers and the slatternly, statuesque
gossips of the place. The remote and noisome canals were pathetic
with empty old palaces peopled by herds of poor, that decorated the
sculptured balconies with the tatters of epicene linen, and patched the
lofty windows with obsolete hats.

I found the night as full of beauty as the day, when caprice led me from
the brilliancy of St. Mark’s and the glittering streets of shops that
branch away from the Piazza, and lost me in the quaint recesses of the
courts, or the tangles of the distant alleys, where the dull little
oil-lamps vied with the tapers burning before the street-corner shrines
of the Virgin, [Footnote: In the early times these tapers were the sole
means of street illumination in Venice.] in making the way obscure, and
deepening the shadows about the doorways and under the frequent arches.
I remember distinctly among the beautiful nights of that time, the soft
night of late winter which first showed me the scene you may behold from
the Public Gardens at the end of the long concave line of the Riva degli
Schiavoni. Lounging there upon the southern parapet of the Gardens, I
turned from the dim bell-towers of the evanescent islands in the east (a
solitary gondola gliding across the calm of the water, and striking its
moonlight silver into multitudinous ripples), and glanced athwart the
vague shipping in the basin of St. Mark, and saw all the lights from the
Piazzetta to the Giudecca, making a crescent of flame in the air, and
casting deep into the water under them a crimson glory that sank also
down and down in my own heart, and illumined all its memories of beauty
and delight. Behind these lamps rose the shadowy masses of church and
palace; the moon stood bright and full in the heavens; the gondola
drifted away to the northward; the islands of the lagoons seemed to rise
and sink with the light palpitations of the waves like pictures on the
undulating fields of banners; the stark rigging of a ship showed black
against the sky, the Lido sank from sight upon the east, as if the shore
had composed itself to sleep by the side of its beloved sea to the music
of the surge that gently beat its sands; the yet leafless boughs of
the trees above me stirred themselves together, and out of one of those
trembling towers in the lagoons, one rich, full sob burst from the heart
of a bell, too deeply stricken with the glory of the scene, and suffused
the languid night with the murmur of luxurious, ineffable sadness.

But there is a perfect democracy in the realm of the beautiful, and
whatsoever pleases is equal to any other thing there, no matter how
low its origin or humble its composition; and the magnificence of that
moonlight scene gave me no deeper joy than I won from the fine spectacle
of an old man whom I saw burning coffee one night in the little
court behind my lodgings, and whom I recollect now as one of the most
interesting people I saw in my first days at Venice. All day long the
air of that neighbourhood had reeked with the odors of the fragrant
berry, and all day long this patient old man--sage, let me call him--had
turned the sheet-iron cylinder in which it was roasting over an open
fire after the picturesque fashion of roasting coffee in Venice. Now
that the night had fallen, and the stars shone down upon him, and
the red of the flame luridly illumined him, he showed more grand and
venerable than ever. Simple, abstract humanity, has its own grandeur
in Italy; and it is not hard here for the artist to find the primitive
types with which genius loves best to deal. As for this old man, he had
the beard of a saint, and the dignity of a senator, harmonized with the
squalor of a beggar, superior to which shone his abstract, unconscious
grandeur of humanity. A vast and calm melancholy, which had nothing to
do with burning coffee, dwelt in his aspect and attitude; and if he had
been some dread supernatural agency, turning the wheel of fortune, and
doing men, instead of coffee, brown, he could not have looked more sadly
and weirdly impressive. When, presently, he rose from his seat, and
lifted the cylinder from its place, and the clinging flames leaped after
it, and he shook it, and a volume of luminous smoke enveloped him and
glorified him--then I felt with secret anguish that he was beyond
art, and turned sadly from the spectacle of that sublime and hopeless

At other times (but this was in broad daylight) I was troubled by the
aesthetic perfection of a certain ruffian boy, who sold cakes of baked
Indian-meal to the soldiers in the military station near the Piazza, and
whom I often noted from the windows of the little caffè there, where you
get an excellent _caffè bianco_ (coffee with milk) for ten soldi and one
to the waiter. I have reason to fear that this boy dealt over shrewdly
with the Austrians, for a pitiless war raged between him and one of
the sergeants. His hair was dark, his cheek was of a bronze better than
olive; and he wore a brave cap of red flannel, drawn down to eyes of
lustrous black. For the rest, he gave unity and coherence to a jacket
and pantaloons of heterogeneous elements, and, such was the elasticity
of his spirit, a buoyant grace to feet encased in wooden shoes.
Habitually came a barrel-organist, and ground before the barracks, and

    “Took the soul
    Of that waste place with joy;”

and ever, when this organist came to a certain lively waltz, and threw
his whole soul, as it were, into the crank of his instrument, my beloved
ragamuffin failed not to seize another cake-boy in his arms, and thus
embraced, to whirl through a wild inspiration of figures, in which there
was something grotesquely rhythmic, something of indescribable barbaric
magnificence, spiritualized into a grace of movement superior to the
energy of the North and the extravagant fervor of the East. It was
coffee and not wine that I drank, but I fable all the same that I saw
reflected in this superb and artistic superation of the difficulties of
dancing in that unfriendly foot-gear, something of the same genius that
combated and vanquished the elements, to build its home upon sea-washed
sands in marble structures of airy and stately splendor, and gave to
architecture new glories full of eternal surprise.

So, I say, I grew early into sympathy and friendship with Venice, and
being newly from a land where every thing, morally and materially, was
in good repair, I rioted sentimentally on the picturesque ruin, the
pleasant discomfort and hopelessness of every thing about me here. It
was not yet the season to behold all the delight of the lazy, out-door
life of the place; but nevertheless I could not help seeing that great
part of the people, both rich and poor, seemed to have nothing to do,
and that nobody seemed to be driven by any inward or outward impulse.
When, however, I ceased (as I must in time) to be merely a spectator of
this idleness, and learned that I too must assume my share of the common
indolence, I found it a grievous burden. Old habits of work, old habits
of hope, made my endless leisure irksome to me, and almost intolerable
when I ascertained fairly and finally that in my desire to fulfill
long-cherished, but, after all, merely general designs of literary
study, I had forsaken wholesome struggle in the currents where I felt
the motion of the age, only to drift into a lifeless eddy of the world,
remote from incentive and sensation.

For such is Venice, and the will must be strong and the faith
indomitable in him who can long retain, amid the influences of her
stagnant quiet, a practical belief in God’s purpose of a great moving,
anxious, toiling, aspiring world outside. When you have yielded, as
after a while I yielded, to these influences, a gentle incredulity
possesses you, and if you consent that such a thing is as earnest and
useful life, you cannot help wondering why it need be. The charm of
the place sweetens your temper, but corrupts you; and I found it a sad
condition of my perception of the beauty of Venice and friendship with
it, that I came in some unconscious way to regard her fate as my own;
and when I began to write the sketches which go to form this book, it
was as hard to speak of any ugliness in her, or of the doom written
against her in the hieroglyphic seams and fissures of her crumbling
masonry, as if the fault and penalty were mine. I do not so greatly
blame, therefore, the writers who have committed so many sins of
omission concerning her, and made her all light, color, canals,
and palaces. One’s conscience, more or less uncomfortably vigilant
elsewhere, drowses here, and it is difficult to remember that fact is
more virtuous than fiction. In other years, when there was life in the
city, and this sad ebb of prosperity was full tide in her canals, there
might have been some incentive to keep one’s thoughts and words from
lapsing into habits of luxurious dishonesty, some reason for telling the
whole hard truth of things, some policy to serve, some end to gain. But
now, what matter?



It was winter, as I said, when I first came to Venice, and my
experiences of the city were not all purely aesthetic. There was,
indeed, an every-day roughness and discomfort in the weather, which
travelers passing their first winter in Italy find it hard to reconcile
with the habitual ideas of the season’s clemency in the South. But
winter is apt to be very severe in mild climates. People do not
acknowledge it, making a wretched pretense that it is summer only a
little out of humor.

The Germans have introduced stoves at Venice, but they are not in much
favor with the Italians, who think their heat unwholesome, and endure
a degree of cold, in their wish to dispense with fire, which we of the
winter-lands know nothing of in our houses. They pay for their absurd
prejudice with terrible chilblains; and their hands, which suffer
equally with their feet, are, in the case of those most exposed to the
cold, objects pitiable and revolting to behold when the itching and the
effort to allay it has turned them into bloated masses of sores. It
is not a pleasant thing to speak of; and the constant sight of the
affliction among people who bring you bread, cut you cheese, and weigh
you out sugar, by no means reconciles the Northern stomach to its
prevalence. I have observed that priests, and those who have much to do
in the frigid churches, are the worst sufferers in this way; and I
think no one can help noting in the harsh, raw winter-complexion (for
in summer the tone is quite different) of the women of all classes, the
protest of systems cruelly starved of the warmth which health demands.

The houses are, naturally enough in this climate, where there are eight
months of summer in the year, all built with a view to coolness in
summer, and the rooms which are not upon the ground-floor are very
large, lofty, and cold. In the palaces, indeed, there are two suites of
apartments--the smaller and cozier suite upon the first floor for the
winter, and the grander and airier chambers and saloons above, for
defence against the insidious heats of the sirocco. But, for the most
part, people must occupy the same room summer and winter, the sole
change being in the strip of carpet laid meagrely before the sofa during
the latter season. In the comparatively few houses where carpets are
the rule and not the exception, they are always removed during the
summer--for the triple purpose of sparing them some months’ wear,
banishing fleas and other domestic insects, and showing off the beauty
of the oiled and shining pavement, which in the meanest houses is
tasteful, and in many of the better sort is often in-wrought with
figures and designs of mosaic work.

All the floors in Venice are of stone, and whether of marble flags, or
of that species of composition formed of dark cement, with fragments of
colored marble imbedded and smoothed and polished to the most glassy
and even surface, and the general effect and complexion of petrified
plum-pudding, all the floors are death-cold in winter. People sit with
their feet upon cushions, and their bodies muffled in furs and wadded
gowns. When one goes out into the sun, one often finds an overcoat too
heavy, but it never gives warmth enough in the house, where the Venetian
sometimes wears it. Indeed, the sun is recognized by Venetians as the
only legitimate source of heat, and they sell his favor at fabulous
prices to such foreigners as take the lodgings into which he shines.

It is those who remain in-doors, therefore, who are exposed to the
utmost rigor of the winter, and people spend as much of their time as
possible in the open air. The Riva degli Schiavoni catches the warm
afternoon sun in its whole extent, and is then thronged with promenaders
of every class, condition, age, and sex; and whenever the sun shines
in the Piazza, shivering fashion eagerly courts its favor. At night men
crowd the close little caffè, where they reciprocate smoke, respiration,
and animal heat, and thus temper the inclemency of the weather, and
beguile the time with solemn loafing, [Footnote: I permit myself,
throughout this book, the use of the expressive American words
_loaf_ and _loafer_, as the only terms adequate to the description of
professional idling in Venice] and the perusal of dingy little
journals, drinking small cups of black coffee, and playing long games of
chess,--an evening that seemed to me as torpid and lifeless as a Lap’s,
and intolerable when I remembered the bright, social winter evenings of
another and happier land and civilization.

Sometimes you find a heated stove--that is to say, one in which there
has been a fire during the day--in a Venetian house; but the stove seems
usually to be placed in the room for ornament, or else to be engaged
only in diffusing a very acrid smoke,--as if the Venetian preferred to
take warmth, as other people do snuff, by inhalation. The stove
itself is a curious structure, and built commonly of bricks and
plastering,--whitewashed and painted outside. It is a great consumer
of fuel, and radiates but little heat. By dint of constant wooding
I contrived to warm mine; but my Italian friends always avoided its
vicinity when they came to see me, and most amusingly regarded my
determination to be comfortable as part of the eccentricity inseparable
from the Anglo-Saxon character.

I daresay they would not trifle with winter, thus, if they knew him in
his northern moods. But the only voluntary concession they make to his
severity is the _scaldino_, and this is made chiefly by the yielding
sex, who are denied the warmth of the caffè. The use of the scaldino
is known to all ranks, but it is the women of the poorer orders who are
most addicted to it. The scaldino is a small pot of glazed earthen-ware,
having an earthen bale: and with this handle passed over the arm, and
the pot full of bristling charcoal, the Veneziana’s defense against cold
is complete. She carries her scaldino with her in the house from room
to room, and takes it with her into the street; and it has often been
my fortune in the churches to divide my admiration between the painting
over the altar and the poor old crone kneeling before it, who, while
she sniffed and whispered a gelid prayer, and warmed her heart with
religion, baked her dirty palms in the carbonic fumes of the scaldino.
In one of the public bathhouses in Venice there are four prints upon the
walls, intended to convey to the minds of the bathers a poetical idea
of the four seasons. There is nothing remarkable in the symbolization
of Spring, Summer, and Autumn; but Winter is nationally represented by
a fine lady dressed in furred robes, with her feet upon a cushioned
foot-stool, and a scaldino in her lap! When we talk of being invaded in
the north, we poetize the idea of defense by the figure of defending our
hearthstones. Alas! _could_ we fight for our sacred _scaldini_?

Happy are the men who bake chestnuts, and sell hot pumpkins and pears,
for they can unite pleasure and profit. There are some degrees of
poverty below the standard of the scaldino, and the beggars and the
wretcheder poor keep themselves warm, I think, by sultry recollections
of summer, as Don Quixote proposed to subsist upon savory remembrances,
during one of his periods of fast. One mendicant whom I know, and who
always sits upon the steps of a certain bridge, succeeds, I believe,
as the season advances, in heating the marble beneath him by firm and
unswerving adhesion, and establishes a reciprocity of warmth with it.
I have no reason to suppose that he ever deserts his seat for a moment
during the whole winter; and indeed, it would be a vicious waste of
comfort to do so.

In the winter, the whole city _sniffs_, and if the Pipchin theory of the
effect of sniffing upon the eternal interests of the soul be true,
few people go to heaven from Venice. I sometimes wildly wondered if
Desdemona, in _her_ time, sniffed, and found little comfort in the
reflection that Shylock must have had a cold in his head. There is
comparative warmth in the broad squares before the churches, but the
narrow streets are bitter thorough-draughts, and fell influenza lies in
wait for its prey in all those picturesque, seducing little courts of
which I have spoken.

It is, however, in the churches, whose cool twilight and airy height one
finds so grateful in summer, that the sharpest malice of the winter
is felt; and having visited a score of them soon after my arrival, I
deferred the remaining seventy-five or eighty, together with the gallery
of the Academy, until advancing spring should, in some degree, have
mitigated the severity of their temperature. As far as my imagination
affected me, I thought the Gothic churches much more tolerable than the
temples of Renaissance art. The empty bareness of these, with their huge
marbles, and their soulless splendors of theatrical sculpture, their
frescoed roofs and broken arches, was insufferable. The arid grace of
Palladio’s architecture was especially grievous to the sense in cold
weather; and I warn the traveler who goes to see the lovely Madonnas of
Bellini to beware how he trusts himself in winter to the gusty, arctic
magnificence of the church of the Redentore. But by all means the
coldest church in the city is that of the Jesuits, which those who
have seen it will remember for its famous marble drapery. This base,
mechanical surprise (for it is a trick and not art) is effected by
inlaying the white marble of columns and pulpits and altars with
a certain pattern of verd-antique. The workmanship is marvelously
skillful, and the material costly, but it only gives the church the
effect of being draped in damask linen; and even where the marble is
carven in vast and heavy folds over a pulpit to simulate a curtain, or
wrought in figures on the steps of the high-altar to represent a carpet,
it has no richness of effect, but a poverty, a coldness, a harshness
indescribably table-clothy. I think all this has tended to chill the
soul of the sacristan, who is the feeblest and thinnest sacristan
conceivable, with a frost of white hair on his temples quite incapable
of thawing. In this dreary sanctuary is one of Titian’s great paintings,
The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, to which (though it is so cunningly
disposed as to light that no one ever yet saw the whole picture at once)
you turn involuntarily, envious of the Saint toasting so comfortably on
his gridiron amid all that frigidity.

The Venetians pretend that many of the late winters have been much
severer than those of former years, but I think this pretense has less
support in fact than in the custom of mankind everywhere, to claim that
such weather as the present, whatever it happens to be, was never seen
before. In fine, the winter climate of north Italy is really very harsh,
and though the season is not so severe in Venice as in Milan, or even
Florence, it is still so sharp as to make foreigners regret the generous
fires and warmly-built houses of the north. There was snow but once
during my first Venetian winter, 1861-62; the second there was none
at all; but the third, which was last winter, it fell repeatedly to
considerable depth, and lay unmelted for many weeks in the shade. The
lagoons were frozen for miles in every direction; and under our windows
on the Grand Canal, great sheets of ice went up and down with the
rising and the falling tide for nearly a whole month. The visible misery
throughout the fireless city was great; and it was a problem I never
could solve, whether people in-doors were greater sufferers from the
cold than those who weathered the cruel winds sweeping the squares and
the canals, and whistling through the streets of stone and brine. The
boys had an unwonted season of sliding on the frozen lagoons, though
a good deal persecuted by the police, who must have looked upon such a
tremendous innovation as little better than revolution; and it was said
that there were card-parties on the ice; but the only creatures which
seemed really to enjoy the weather were the seagulls. These birds, which
flock into the city in vast numbers at the first approach of cold,
and, sailing up and down the canals between the palaces, bring to
the dwellers in the city a full sense of mid-ocean forlornness and
desolation, now rioted on the savage winds, with harsh cries, and
danced upon the waves of the bitter brine, with a clamorous joy that had
something eldritch and unearthly in it.

A place so much given to gossip as Venice did not fail to produce many
memorable incidents of the cold; but the most singular adventure was
that of the old man employed at the Armenian Convent to bring milk from
the island of San Lazzaro to the city. One night, shortly after the
coldest weather set in, he lost his oar as he was returning to the
island. The wind, which is particularly furious in that part of the
lagoon, blew his boat away into the night, and the good brothers at the
convent naturally gave up their milkman for lost. The winds and waters
drifted him eight miles from the city into the northern lagoon, and
there lodged his boat in the marshes, where it froze fast in the
stiffening mud. The luckless occupant had nothing to eat or drink in his
boat, where he remained five days and nights, exposed to the inclemency
of cold many degrees below friendship in severity. He made continual
signs of distress, but no boat came near enough to discover him. At
last, when the whole marsh was frozen solid, he was taken off by some
fishermen, and carried to the convent, where he remains in perfectly
recovered health, and where no doubt he will be preserved alive many
years in an atmosphere which renders dying a San Lazzaro a matter of
no small difficulty. During the whole time of his imprisonment, he
sustained life against hunger and cold by smoking. I suppose no one will
be surprised to learn that he was rescued by the fishermen through the
miraculous interposition of the Madonna--as any one might have seen by
the votive picture hung up at her shrine on a bridge of the Riva degli
Schiavoni, wherein the Virgin was represented breaking through the
clouds in one corner of the sky, and unmistakably directing the
operations of the fishermen.

It is said that no such winter as that of 1863-4 has been known in
Venice since the famous _Anno del Ghiaccio_ (Year of the Ice), which
fell about the beginning of the last century. This year is celebrated in
the local literature; the play which commemorates it always draws full
houses at the people’s theatre, Malibran; and the often-copied picture,
by a painter of the time, representing Lustrissime and Lustrissimi in
hoops and bag-wigs on the ice, never fails to block up the street before
the shop-window in which it is exposed. The King of Denmark was then the
guest of the Republic, and as the unprecedented cold defeated all the
plans arranged for his diversion, the pleasure-loving government
turned the cold itself to account, and made the ice occasion of novel
brilliancy in its festivities. The duties on commerce between the city
and the mainland were suspended for as long time as the lagoon should
remain frozen, and the ice became a scene of the liveliest traffic, and
was everywhere covered with sledges, bringing the produce of the country
to the capital, and carrying away its stuffs in return. The Venetians
of every class amused themselves in visiting this free mart, and the
gentler and more delicate sex pressed eagerly forward to traverse
with their feet a space hitherto passable only in gondolas. [Footnote:
_Origine delle Feste Veneziane_, di Giustina Renier-Michiel] The lagoon
remained frozen, and these pleasures lasted eighteen days, a period of
cold unequaled till last winter. A popular song now declares that the
present generation has known a winter quite as marvelous as that of the
Year of the Ice, and celebrates the wonder of walking on the water:--

    Che bell’ affar!
    Che patetico affar!
    Che immenso affar!
    Sora l’acqua camminar!

But after all the disagreeable winter, which hardly commences before
Christmas, and which ends about the middle of March, is but a small part
of the glorious Venetian year; and even this ungracious season has a
loveliness, at times, which it can have nowhere but in Venice. What
summer-delight of other lands could match the beauty of the first
Venetian snow-fall which I saw? It had snowed overnight, and in the
morning when I woke it was still snowing. The flakes fell softly and
vertically through the motionless air, and all the senses were full
of languor and repose. It was rapture to lie still, and after a faint
glimpse of the golden-winged angel on the bell-tower of St. Mark’s,
to give indolent eye solely to the contemplation of the roof opposite,
where the snow lay half an inch deep upon the brown tiles. The
little scene--a few square yards of roof, a chimney-pot, and a
dormer-window--was all that the most covetous spirit could demand; and I
lazily lorded it over that domain of pleasure, while the lingering mists
of a dream of new-world events blent themselves with the luxurious humor
of the moment and the calm of the snow-fall, and made my reverie one of
the perfectest things in the world. When I was lost the deepest in it, I
was inexpressibly touched and gratified by the appearance of a black
cat at the dormer-window. In Venice, roofs commanding pleasant exposures
seem to be chiefly devoted to the cultivation of this animal, and there
are many cats in Venice. My black cat looked wonderingly upon the snow
for a moment, and then ran across the roof. Nothing could have been
better. Any creature less silent, or in point of movement less soothing
to the eye than a cat, would have been torture of the spirit. As it
was, this little piece of action contented me so well, that I left every
thing else out of my reverie, and could only think how deliciously the
cat harmonized with the snow-covered tiles, the chimney-pot, and the
dormer-window. I began to long for her reappearance, but when she did
come forth and repeat her maneuver, I ceased to have the slightest
interest in the matter, and experienced only the disgust of satiety. I
had felt _ennui_--nothing remained but to get up and change my relations
with the world.

In Venetian streets they give the fallen snow no rest. It is at
once shoveled into the canals by hundreds of half-naked _facchini_;
[Footnote: The term for those idle people in Italian cities who relieve
long seasons of repose by occasionally acting as messengers, porters
and day-laborers.] and now in St. Mark’s Place the music of innumerable
shovels smote upon my ear; and I saw the shivering legion of poverty as
it engaged the elements in a struggle for the possession of the
Piazza. But the snow continued to fall, and through the twilight of the
descending flakes all this toil and encounter looked like that weary
kind of effort in dreams, when the most determined industry seems only
to renew the task. The lofty crest of the bell-tower was hidden in the
folds of falling snow, and I could no longer see the golden angel upon
its summit. But looked at across the Piazza, the beautiful outline of
St. Mark’s Church was perfectly penciled in the air, and the shifting
threads of the snow-fall were woven into a spell of novel enchantment
around a structure that always seemed to me too exquisite in its
fantastic loveliness to be any thing but the creation of magic. The
tender snow had compassionated the beautiful edifice for all the wrongs
of time, and so hid the stains and ugliness of decay that it looked as
if just from the hand of the builder--or, better said, just from the
brain of the architect. There was marvelous freshness in the colors of
the mosaics in the great arches of the façade, and all that gracious
harmony into which the temple rises, of marble scrolls and leafy
exuberance airily supporting the statues of the saints, was a hundred
times etherealized by the purity and whiteness of the drifting
flakes. The snow lay lightly on the golden globes that tremble like
peacock-crests above the vast domes, and plumed them with softest white;
it robed the saints in ermine; and it danced over all its work, as if
exulting in its beauty--beauty which filled me with subtle, selfish
yearning to keep such evanescent loveliness for the little-while-longer
of my whole life, and with despair to think that even the poor lifeless
shadow of it could never be fairly reflected in picture or poem.

Through the wavering snow-fall, the Saint Theodore upon one of the
granite pillars of the Piazzetta did not show so grim as his wont is,
and the winged lion on the other might have been a winged lamb, so mild
and gentle he looked by the tender light of the storm. [Footnote: St.
Theodore was the first patron of Venice, but he was deposed and St. Mark
adopted, when the bones of the latter were brought from Alexandria. The
Venetians seem to have felt some compunctions for this desertion of an
early friend, and they have given St. Theodore a place on one of the
granite pillars, while the other is surmounted by the Lion, representing
St. Mark. _Fra Marco e Todaro_, is a Venetian proverb expressing the
state of perplexity which we indicate by the figure of an ass between
two bundles of hay.] The towers of the island churches loomed faint and
far away in the dimness; the sailors in the rigging of the ships that
lay in the Basin wrought like phantoms among the shrouds; the gondolas
stole in and out of the opaque distance more noiselessly and dreamily
than ever; and a silence, almost palpable, lay upon the mutest city in
the world.



The Place of St. Mark is the heart of Venice, and from this beats her
life in every direction through an intricate system of streets and
canals that bring it back again to the same centre. So, if the slightest
uneasiness had attended the frequency with which I lost my way in the
city at first, there would always have been this comfort: that the place
was very small in actual extent, and that if I continued walking I must
reach the Piazza sooner or later. There is a crowd constantly tending to
and from it, and you have but to take this tide, and be drifted to St.
Mark’s--or to the Rialto Bridge, whence it is directly accessible.

Of all the open spaces in the city, that before the Church of St. Mark
alone bears the name of Piazza, and the rest are called merely _campi_,
or fields. But if the company of the noblest architecture can give
honor, the Piazza San Marco merits its distinction, not in Venice only,
but in the whole world; for I fancy that no other place in the world
is set in such goodly bounds. Its westward length is terminated by
the Imperial Palace; its lateral borders are formed by lines of palace
called the New Procuratie on the right, and the Old Procuratie on the
left; [Footnote: In Republican days the palaces of the _Procuratori di
San Marco_.] and the Church of St. Mark fills up almost its whole width
upon the east, leaving space enough, however, for a glimpse of the
Gothic perfection of the Ducal Palace. The place then opens southward
with the name of Piazzetta, between the eastern façade of the Ducal
Palace and the classic front of the Libreria Vecchia, and expands and
ends at last on the mole, where stand the pillars of St. Mark and St.
Theodore; and then this mole, passing the southern façade of the Doge’s
Palace, stretches away to the Public Gardens at the eastern extremity
of the city, over half a score of bridges, between lines of houses and
shipping--stone and wooden walls--in the long, crescent-shaped quay
called Riva degli Schiavoni. Looking northward up the Piazzetta from the
Molo, the vision traverses the eastern breadth of the Piazza, and rests
upon the Clock Tower, gleaming with blue and gold, on which the bronze
Giants beat the hours; or it climbs the great mass of the Campanile
San Marco, standing apart from the church at the corner of the New
Procuratie, and rising four hundred feet toward the sky--the sky where
the Venetian might well place his heaven, as the Moors bounded Paradise
in the celestial expanse that roofed Granada.

My first lodging was but a step out of the Piazza, and this vicinity
brought me early into familiar acquaintance with its beauty. But I
never, during three years, passed through it in my daily walks, without
feeling as freshly as at first the greatness of this beauty. The church,
which the mighty bell-tower and the lofty height of the palace-lines
make to look low, is in nowise humbled by the contrast, but is like
a queen enthroned amid upright reverence. The religious sentiment is
deeply appealed to, I think, in the interior of St. Mark’s; but if its
interior is heaven’s, its exterior, like a good man’s daily life, is
earth’s; and it is this winning loveliness of earth that first attracts
you to it, and when you emerge from its portals, you enter upon
spaces of such sunny length and breadth, set round with such exquisite
architecture, that it makes you glad to be living in this world. Before
you expands the great Piazza, peopled with its various life; on your
left, between the Pillars of the Piazzetta, swims the blue lagoon, and
overhead climb the arches, one above another, in excesses of fantastic

Whatever could please, the Venetian seems to have brought hither and
made part of his Piazza, that it might remain forever the city’s supreme
grace; and so, though there are public gardens and several pleasant
walks in the city, the great resort in summer and winter, by day and by
night, is the Piazza San Marco. Its ground-level, under the Procuratie,
is belted with a glittering line of shops and caffè, the most tasteful
and brilliant in the world, and the arcades that pass round three of its
sides are filled with loungers and shoppers, even when there is music
by the Austrian bands; for, as we have seen, the purest patriot may then
walk under the Procuratie, without stain to the principles which would
be hopelessly blackened if he set foot in the Piazza. The absence of
dust and noisy hoofs and wheels tempts social life out of doors in
Venice more than in any other Italian city, though the tendency to this
sort of expansion is common throughout Italy. Beginning with the warm
days of early May, and continuing till the _villeggiatura_ (the period
spent at the country seat) interrupts it late in September, all Venice
goes by a single impulse of _dolce far niente_, and sits gossiping at
the doors of the innumerable caffè on the Riva degli Schiavoni, in the
Piazza San Marco, and in the different squares in every part of the
city. But, of course, the most brilliant scene of this kind is in St.
Mark’s Place, which has a night-time glory indescribable, won from
the light of uncounted lamps upon its architectural groups. The superb
Imperial Palace--the sculptured, arcaded, and pillared Procuratie--the
Byzantine magic and splendor of the church--will it all be there when
you come again to-morrow night? The unfathomable heaven above seems part
of the place, for I think it is never so tenderly blue over any other
spot of earth. And when the sky is blurred with clouds, shall not the
Piazza vanish with the azure?--People, I say, come to drink coffee, and
eat ices here in the summer evenings, and then, what with the promenades
in the arcades and in the Piazza, the music, the sound of feet, and the
hum of voices, unbroken by the ruder uproar of cities where there are
horses and wheels--the effect is that of a large evening party, and in
this aspect the Piazza, is like a vast drawing-room.

I liked well to see that strange life, which even the stout,
dead-in-earnest little Bohemian musicians, piping in the centre of the
Piazza, could not altogether substantialize, and which constantly took
immateriality from the loveliness of its environment. In the winter the
scene was the most purely Venetian, and in my first winter, when I had
abandoned all thought of churches till spring, I settled down to steady
habits of idleness and coffee, and contemplated the life of the Piazza.

By all odds, the loungers at Florian’s were the most interesting,
because they were the most various. People of all shades of politics met
in the dainty little saloons, though there were shades of division
even there, and they did not mingle. The Italians carefully assorted
themselves in a room furnished with green velvet, and the Austrians and
the Austriacanti frequented a red-velvet room. They were curious to look
at, those tranquil, indolent, Italian loafers, and I had an uncommon
relish for them. They seldom spoke together, and when they did speak,
they burst from silence into tumultuous controversy, and then lapsed
again into perfect silence. The elder among them sat with their hands
carefully folded on the heads of their sticks, gazing upon the ground,
or else buried themselves in the perusal of the French journals. The
younger stood a good deal about the doorways, and now and then passed
a gentle, gentle jest with the elegant waiters in black coats and white
cravats, who hurried to and fro with the orders, and called them out in
strident tones to the accountant at his little table; or sometimes these
young idlers make a journey to the room devoted to ladies and forbidden
to smokers, looked long and deliberately in upon its loveliness, and
then returned to the bosom of their taciturn companions. By chance I
found them playing chess, but very rarely. They were all well-dressed,
handsome men, with beards carefully cut, brilliant hats and boots, and
conspicuously clean linen. I used to wonder who they were, to what order
of society they belonged, and whether they, like my worthless self, had
never any thing else but lounging at Florian’s to do; but I really know
none of these things to this day. Some men in Venice spend their noble,
useful lives in this way, and it was the proud reply of a Venetian
father, when asked of what profession his son was, “_È in Piazza!_”
 That was, he bore a cane, wore light gloves, and stared from Florian’s
windows at the ladies who went by.

At the Caffè Quadri, immediately across the Piazza, there was a scene
of equal hopefulness. But there, all was a glitter of uniforms, and
the idling was carried on with a great noise of conversation in
Austrian-German. Heaven knows what it was all about, but I presume the
talk was upon topics of mutual improvement, calculated to advance the
interests of self-government and mankind. These officers were very
comely, intelligent-looking people with the most good-natured faces.
They came and went restlessly, sitting down and knocking their steel
scabbards against the tables, or rising and straddling off with their
long swords kicking against their legs. They are the most stylish
soldiers in the world, and one has no notion how ill they can dress when
left to themselves, till one sees them in civil clothes.

Further up toward the Fabbrica Nuova (as the Imperial Palace is called),
under the Procuratie Vecchie, is the Caffè Specchi, frequented only by
young Italians, of an order less wealthy than those who go to Florian’s.
Across from this caffè is that of the Emperor of Austria, resorted to
chiefly by non-commissioned officers, and civilian officials of lower
grade. You know the latter, at a glance, by their beard, which in Venice
is an index to every man’s politics: no Austriacante wears the imperial,
no Italianissimo shaves it. Next is the Caffè Suttil, rather Austrian,
and frequented by Italian _codini_, or old fogies, in politics: gray old
fellows, who caress their sticks with more constant zeal than even the
elders at Florian’s. Quite at the other end of the Procuratie Nuove is
the Caffè of the Greeks, a nation which I have commonly seen represented
there by two or three Albanians with an Albanian boy, who, being dressed
exactly like his father, curiously impressed me, as if he were the young
of some Oriental animal--say a boy-elephant or infant camel.

I hope that the reader adds to this sketch, even in the winter time,
occasional tourists under the Procuratie, at the caffè, and in the
shops, where the shop-keepers are devouring them with the keenness of
an appetite unsated by the hordes of summer visitors. I hope that the
reader also groups me fishermen, gondoliers, beggars, and loutish boys
about the base of St. Mark’s, and at the feet of the three flag-staffs
before the church; that he passes me a slatternly woman and a frowzy
girl or two through the Piazza occasionally; and that he calls down the
flocks of pigeons hovering near. I fancy the latter half ashamed to
show themselves, as being aware that they are a great humbug, and
unrightfully in the guide-books.

Meantime, while I sit at Florian’s, sharing and studying the universal
worthlessness about me, the brief winter passes, and the spring of the
south--so unlike the ardent season of the north, where it burns full
summer before the snows are dried upon the fields--descends upon the
city and the sea. But except in the little gardens of the palaces, and
where here and there a fig-tree lifts its head to peer over a lofty
stone wall, the spring finds no response of swelling bud and unfolding
leaf, and it is human nature alone which welcomes it. Perhaps it is for
this reason that the welcome is more visible in Venice than elsewhere,
and that here, where the effect of the season is narrowed and limited
to men’s hearts, the joy it brings is all the keener and deeper. It is
certain at least that the rapture is more demonstrative. The city at all
times voiceful, seems to burst into song with the advent of these
golden days and silver nights. Bands of young men go singing through the
moonlit streets, and the Grand Canal reëchoes the music of the parties
of young girls as they drift along in the scarcely moving boats,
and sing the glories of the lagoons and the loves of fishermen and
gondoliers. In the Public Gardens they walk and sing; and wandering
minstrels come forth before the caffè, and it is hard to get beyond the
tinkling of guitars and the scraping of fiddles. It is as if the city
had put off its winter humor with its winter dress; and as Venice in
winter is the dreariest and gloomiest place in the world, so in spring
it is the fullest of joy and light. There is a pleasant bustle in the
streets, a ceaseless clatter of feet over the stones of the squares, and
a constant movement of boats upon the canals.

We say, in a cheap and careless way, that the southern peoples have no
_homes_. But this is true only in a restricted sense, for the Italian,
and the Venetian especially, makes the whole city his home in pleasant
weather. No one remains under a roof who can help it; and now, as I said
before, the fascinating out-door life begins. All day long the people
sit and drink coffee and eat ices and gossip together before the caffè,
and the soft midnight sees the same diligent idlers in their places. The
promenade is at all seasons the favorite Italian amusement; it has its
rigidly fixed hours, and its limits are also fixed: but now, in spring,
even the promenade is a little lawless, and the crowds upon the Riva
sometimes walk as far as the Public Gardens, and throng all the wider
avenues and the Piazza; while young Venice comes to take the sun at St.
Mark’s in the arms of its high-breasted nurses,--mighty country-women,
who, in their bright costumes, their dangling chains, and head-dresses
of gold and silver baubles, stride through the Piazza with the high,
free-stepping movement of blood-horses, and look like the women of some
elder race of barbaric vigor and splendor, which, but for them, had
passed away from our puny, dull-clad times.

    “_È la stagion che ognuno s’innamora;_”

and now young girls steal to their balconies, and linger there for
hours, subtly conscious of the young men sauntering to and fro, and
looking up at them from beneath. Now, in the shady little courts, the
Venetian housewives, who must perforce remain indoors, put out their
heads and gossip from window to window; while the pretty water-carriers,
filling their buckets from the wells below, chatter and laugh at their
work. Every street down which you look is likewise vocal with gossip;
and if the picturesque projection of balconies, shutters, and chimneys,
of which the vista is full, hide the heads of the gossipers, be sure
there is a face looking out of every window for all that, and the
social, expansive presence of the season is felt there.

The poor, whose sole luxury the summer is, lavish the spring upon
themselves unsparingly. They come forth from their dark dens in
crumbling palaces and damp basements, and live in the sunlight and the
welcome air. They work, they eat, they sleep out of doors. Mothers of
families sit about their doors and spin, or walk volubly up and down
with other slatternly matrons, armed with spindle and distaff while
their raven-haired daughters, lounging near the threshold, chase the
covert insects that haunt the tangles of the children’s locks. Within
doors shines the bare bald head of the grandmother, who never ceases
talking for an instant.

Before the winter passed, I had changed my habitation from rooms near
the Piazza, to quarters on the Campo San Bartolomeo, through which the
busiest street in Venice passes, from St. Mark’s to the Rialto Bridge.
It is one of the smallest squares of the city, and the very noisiest,
and here the spring came with intolerable uproar. I had taken my rooms
early in March, when the tumult under my windows amounted only to a
cheerful stir, and made company for me; but when the winter broke, and
the windows were opened, I found that I had too much society.

Each campo in Venice is a little city, self-contained and independent.
Each has its church, of which it was in the earliest times the
burial-ground; and each within its limits compasses an apothecary’s
shop, a mercer’s and draper’s shop, a blacksmith’s and shoemaker’s shop,
a caffè more or less brilliant, a green-grocer’s and fruiterer’s, a
family grocery--nay, there is also a second-hand merchant’s shop where
you buy and sell every kind of worn-out thing at the lowest rates. Of
course there is a coppersmith’s and a watchmaker’s, and pretty certainly
a wood-carver’s and gilder’s, while without a barber’s shop no campo
could preserve its integrity or inform itself of the social and
political news of the day. In addition to all these elements of bustle
and disturbance, San Bartolomeo swarmed with the traffic and rang with
the bargains of the Rialto market.

Here the small dealer makes up in boastful clamor for the absence of
quantity and assortment in his wares; and it often happens that an
almost imperceptible boy, with a card of shirt-buttons and a paper
of hair-pins, is much worse than the Anvil Chorus with real anvils.
Fishermen, with baskets of fish upon their heads; peddlers, with trays
of housewife wares; louts who dragged baskets of lemons and oranges back
and forth by long cords; men who sold water by the glass; charlatans who
advertised cement for mending broken dishes, and drops for the cure of
toothache; jugglers who spread their carpets and arranged their temples
of magic upon the ground; organists who ground their organs; and poets
of the people who brought out new songs, and sang and sold them to the
crowd;--these were the children of confusion, whom the pleasant sun and
friendly air woke to frantic and interminable uproar in San Bartolomeo.

Yet there was a charm about all this at first, and I spent much time in
the study of the vociferous life under my windows, trying to make out
the meaning of the different cries, and to trace them back to their
sources. There was one which puzzled me for a long time--a sharp,
pealing cry that ended in a wail of angry despair, and, rising high
above all other sounds, impressed the spirit like the cry of that bird
in the tropic forests which the terrified Spaniards called the _alma
perdida_. After many days of listening and trembling, I found that it
proceeded from a wretched, sun-burnt girl, who carried about some
dozens of knotty pears, and whose hair hung disheveled round her eyes,
bloodshot with the strain of her incessant shrieks.

In San Bartolomeo, as in other squares, the buildings are palaces above
and shops below. The ground-floor is devoted to the small commerce of
various kinds already mentioned; the first story above is occupied
by tradesmen’s families; and on the third or fourth floor is the
_appartamento signorile_. From the balconies of these stories hung the
cages of innumerable finches, canaries, blackbirds, and savage parrots,
which sang and screamed with delight in the noise that rose from the
crowd. All the human life, therefore, which the spring drew to the
casements was perceptible only in dumb show. One of the palaces opposite
was used as a hotel, and faces continually appeared at the windows. By
all odds the most interesting figure there was that of a stout peasant
serving-girl, dressed in a white knitted jacket, a crimson neckerchief,
and a bright-colored gown, and wearing long dangling ear-rings of
yellowest gold. For hours this idle maiden balanced herself half over
the balcony-rail in perusal of the people under her, and I suspect made
love at that distance, and in that constrained position, to some one in
the crowd. On another balcony, a lady sat and knitted with crimson yarn;
and at the window of still another house, a damsel now looked out
upon the square, and now gave a glance into the room, in the evident
direction of a mirror. Venetian neighbors have the amiable custom of
studying one another’s features through opera-glasses; but I could not
persuade myself to use this means of learning the mirror’s response to
the damsel’s constant “Fair or not?” being a believer in every woman’s
right to look well a little way off. I shunned whatever trifling
temptation there was in the case, and turned again to the campo
beneath--to the placid dandies about the door of the caffè; to the tide
of passers from the Merceria; the smooth-shaven Venetians of other days,
and the bearded Venetians of these; the dark-eyed, white-faced Venetian
girls, hooped in cruel disproportion to the narrow streets, but richly
clad, and moving with southern grace; the files of heavily burdened
soldiers; the little policemen loitering lazily about with their swords
at their sides, and in their spotless Austrian uniforms.

As the spring advances in Venice, and the heat increases, the expansive
delight with which the city hails its coming passes into a tranquiler
humor, as if the joy of the beautiful season had sunk too deeply into
the city’s heart for utterance. I, too, felt this longing for quiet,
and as San Bartolomeo continued untouched by it, and all day roared
and thundered under my windows, and all night long gave itself up to
sleepless youths who there melodiously bayed the moon in chorus, I was
obliged to abandon San Bartolomeo, and seek calmer quarters where I
might enjoy the last luxurious sensations of the spring-time in peace.

Now, with the city’s lapse into this tranquiler humor, the promenades
cease. The facchino gives all his leisure to sleeping in the sun; and
in the mellow afternoons there is scarcely a space of six feet square on
the Riva degli Schiavoni which does not bear its brown-cloaked peasant,
basking face-downward in the warmth. The broad steps of the bridges are
by right the berths of the beggars; the sailors and fishermen slumber in
their boats; and the gondoliers, if they do not sleep, are yet placated
by the season, and forbear to quarrel, and only break into brief clamors
at the sight of inaccessible Inglesi passing near them under the guard
of _valets de place_. Even the play of the children ceases, except in
the Public Gardens, where the children of the poor have indolent games,
and sport as noiselessly as the lizards that slide from shadow to shadow
and glitter in the sun asleep. This vernal silence of the city possesses
you,--the stranger in it,--not with sadness, not with melancholy, but
with a deep sense of the sweetness of doing nothing, and an indifference
to all purposes and chances. If ever you cared to have your name on
men’s tongues, behold! that old yearning for applause is dead. Praise
would strike like pain through this delicious calm. And blame? It is a
wild and frantic thing to dare it by any effort. Repose takes you to her
inmost heart, and you learn her secrets--arcana unintelligible to you in
the new-world life of bustle and struggle. Old lines of lazy rhyme win
new color and meaning. The mystical, indolent poems whose music once
charmed away all will to understand them, are revealed now without your
motion. Now, at last, you know _why_

    “It was an Abyssinian maid”

who played upon the dulcimer. And Xanadu? It is the land in which you
were born!

The slumbrous bells murmur to each other in the lagoons; the white sail
faints into the white distance; the gondola slides athwart the sheeted
silver of the bay; the blind beggar, who seemed sleepless as fate, dozes
at his post.



With the winter came to an end the amusement which, in spite of the
existing political demonstration, I had drawn from the theatres. The
Fenice, the great theatre of the city, being the property of private
persons, has not been opened since the discontents of the Venetians were
intensified in 1859; and it will not be opened, they say, till Victor
Emanuel comes to honor the ceremony. Though not large, and certainly
not so magnificent as the Venetians think, the Fenice is a superb and
tasteful theatre. The best opera was formerly given in it, and now that
it is closed, the musical drama, of course, suffers. The Italians seldom
go to it, and as there is not a sufficient number of foreign residents
to support it in good style, the opera commonly conforms to the
character of the theatre San Benedetto, in which it is given, and is
second-rate. It is nearly always subsidized by the city to the amount of
several thousand florins; but nobody need fall into the error, on this
account, of supposing that it is cheap to the opera-goer, as it is in
the little German cities. A box does not cost a great deal; but as the
theatre is carried on in Italy by two different managements,--one of
which receives the money for the boxes and seats, and the other the fee
of admission to the theatre,--there is always the demand of the latter
to be satisfied with nearly the same outlay as that for the box, before
you can reach your place. The pit is fitted up with seats, of course,
but you do not sit down there without paying. So, most Italians (who
if they go at all go without ladies) and the poorer sort of government
officials stand; the orchestra seats are reserved for the officers of
the garrison. The first row of boxes, which is on a level with the
heads of people in the pit, is well enough, but rank and fashion take a
loftier flight, and sit in the second tier.

You look about in vain, however, for that old life of the theatre which
once formed so great a part of Venetian gayety,--the visits from box to
box, the gossiping between the acts, and the half-occult flirtations.
The people in the boxes are few, the dressing not splendid, and the
beauty is the blond, unfrequent beauty of the German aliens. Last winter
being the fourth season the Italians had defied the temptation of the
opera, some of the Venetian ladies yielded to it, but went plainly
dressed, and sat far back in boxes of the third tier, and when they
issued forth after the opera were veiled beyond recognition. The
audience usually takes its enjoyment quietly; hissing now and then for
silence in the house, and clapping hands for applause, without calling
_bravo_,--an Italian custom which I have noted to be chiefly habitual
with foreigners: with Germans, for instance; who spell it with a _p_ and

I fancy that to find good Italian opera you must seek it somewhere out
of Italy,--at London, or Paris, or New York,--though possibly it might
be chanced upon at La Scala in Milan, or San Carlo in Naples. The cause
of the decay of the musical art in Venice must be looked for among the
events which seem to have doomed her to decay in every thing; certainly
it cannot be discerned in any indifference of the people to music. The
_dimostrazione_ keeps the better class of citizens from the opera,
but the passion for it still exists in every order; and God’s gift of
beautiful voice cannot be smothered in the race by any Situation. You
hear the airs of opera sung as commonly upon the streets in Venice as
our own colored melodies at home; and the street-boy when he sings has
an inborn sense of music and a power of execution which put to shame the
cultivated tenuity of sound that issues from the northern mouth--

    “That frozen, passive, palsied breathing-hole.”

In the days of the Fenice there was a school for the ballet at that
theatre, but this last and least worthy part of dramatic art is now
an imported element of the opera in Venice. No novices appear on her
stages, and the musical conservatories of the place, which were once so
famous, have long ceased to exist. The musical theatre was very popular
in Venice as early as the middle of the seventeenth century; and the
care of the state for the drama existed from the first. The government,
which always piously forbade the representation of Mysteries, and, as
the theatre advanced, even prohibited plays containing characters of the
Old or New Testament, began about the close of the century to protect
and encourage the instruction of music in the different foundling
hospitals and public refuges in the city. The young girls in these
institutions were taught to play on instruments, and to sing,--at first
for the alleviation of their own dull and solitary life, and afterward
for the delight of the public. In the merry days that passed just before
the fall of the Republic, the Latin oratorios which they performed in
the churches attached to the hospitals were among the most fashionable
diversions in Venice. The singers were instructed by the best masters
of the time; and at the close of the last century, the conservatories
of the Incurables, the Foundlings, and the Mendicants were famous
throughout Europe for their dramatic concerts, and for those pupils who
found the transition from sacred to profane opera natural and easy.

With increasing knowledge of the language, I learned to enjoy best the
unmusical theatre, and went oftener to the comedy than the opera. It
is hardly by any chance that the Italians play ill, and I have seen
excellent acting at the Venetian theatres, both in the modern Italian
comedy, which is very rich and good, and in the elder plays of
Goldoni--compositions deliciously racy when seen in Venice, where
alone their admirable fidelity of drawing and coloring can be perfectly
appreciated. The best comedy is usually given to the educated classes at
the pretty Teatro Apollo, while a bloodier and louder drama is offered
to the populace at Teatro Malibran, where on a Sunday night you may
see the plebeian life of the city in one of its most entertaining and
characteristic phases. The sparings of the whole week which have not
been laid out for chances in the lottery, are spent for this evening’s
amusement; and in the vast pit you see, besides the families of
comfortable artisans who can evidently afford it, a multitude of the
ragged poor, whose presence, even at the low rate of eight or ten soldi
[Footnote: The soldo is the hundredth part of the Austrian florin, which
is worth about forty-nine cents of American money.] apiece, it is hard
to account for. It is very peremptory, this audience, in its likes and
dislikes, and applauds and hisses with great vehemence. It likes best
the sanguinary local spectacular drama; it cheers and cheers again
every allusion to Venice; and when the curtain rises on some well-known
Venetian scene, it has out the scene-painter by name three times--which
is all the police permits. The auditors wear their hats in the pit, but
deny that privilege to the people in the boxes, and raise stormy and
wrathful cries of _cappello!_ till these uncover. Between acts, they
indulge in excesses of water flavored with anise, and even go to the
extent of candied nuts and fruits, which are hawked about the theatre,
and sold for two soldi the stick,--with the tooth-pick on which they are
spitted thrown into the bargain.

The Malibran Theatre is well attended on Sunday night, but the one
entertainment which never fails of drawing and delighting full houses is
the theatre of the puppets, or the Marionette, and thither I like best
to go. The Marionette prevail with me, for I find in the performances of
these puppets, no new condition demanded of the spectator, but rather a
frank admission of unreality that makes every shadow of verisimilitude
delightful, and gives a marvelous relish to the immemorial effects and
traditionary tricks of the stage.

The little theatre of the puppets is at the corner of a narrow street
opening from the Calle del Ridotto, and is of the tiniest dimensions and
simplest appointments. There are no boxes--the whole theatre is scarcely
larger than a stage-box--and you pay ten soldi to go into the pit, where
you are much more comfortable than the aristocrats who have paid fifteen
for places in the dress-circle above. The stage is very small, and the
scenery a kind of coarse miniature painting. But it is very complete,
and every thing is contrived to give relief to the puppets and to
produce an illusion of magnitude in their figures. They are very
artlessly introduced, and are maneuvered, according to the exigencies of
the scene, by means of cords running from their heads, arms, and legs
to the top of the stage. To the management of the cords they owe all
the vehemence of their passions and the grace of their oratory, not to
mention a certain gliding, ungradual locomotion, altogether spectral.

The drama of the Marionette is of a more elevated and ambitious tone
than that of the Burattini, which exhibit their vulgar loves and coarse
assassinations in little punch-shows on the Riva, and in the larger
squares; but the standard characters are nearly the same with both, and
are all descended from the _commedia a braccio_ [Footnote: Comedy by the
yard.] which flourished on the Italian stage before the time of Goldoni.
And I am very far from disparaging the Burattini, which have great and
peculiar merits, not the least of which is the art of drawing the
most delighted, dirty, and picturesque audiences. Like most of the
Marionette, they converse vicariously in the Venetian dialect, and have
such a rapidity of utterance that it is difficult to follow them. I only
remember to have made out one of their comedies,--a play in which an
ingenious lover procured his rich and successful rival to be arrested
for lunacy, and married the disputed young person while the other
was raging in the mad-house. This play is performed to enthusiastic
audiences; but for the most part the favorite drama of the Burattini
appears to be a sardonic farce, in which the chief character--a puppet
ten inches high, with a fixed and staring expression of Mephistophelean
good-nature and wickedness--deludes other and weak-minded puppets into
trusting him, and then beats them with a club upon the back of the head
until they die. The murders of this infamous creature, which are always
executed in a spirit of jocose _sang-froid_, and accompanied by humorous
remarks, are received with the keenest relish by the spectators and,
indeed, the action is every way worthy of applause. The dramatic spirit
of the Italian race seems to communicate itself to the puppets, and they
perform their parts with a fidelity to theatrical unnaturalness which is
wonderful. I have witnessed death agonies on these little stages which
the great American tragedian himself (whoever he may happen to be) could
not surpass in degree of energy. And then the Burattini deserve the
greater credit because they are agitated by the legs from below the
scene, and not managed by cords from above, as at the Marionette
Theatre. Their audiences, as I said, are always interesting, and
comprise: first, boys ragged and dirty in inverse ratio to their size;
then weak little girls, supporting immense weight of babies; then
Austrian soldiers, with long coats and short pipes; lumbering Dalmat
sailors; a transient Greek or Turk; Venetian loafers, pale-faced,
statuesque, with the drapery of their cloaks thrown over their
shoulders; young women, with bare heads of thick black hair; old women,
all fluff and fangs; wooden-shod peasants, with hooded cloaks of coarse
brown; then boys--and boys. They all enjoy the spectacle with approval,
and take the drama _au grand sérieux_, uttering none of the gibes which
sometimes attend efforts to please in our own country. Even when the
hat, or other instrument of extortion, is passed round, and they give
nothing, and when the manager, in an excess of fury and disappointment,
calls out, “Ah! sons of dogs! I play no more to you!” and closes the
theatre, they quietly and unresentfully disperse. Though, indeed, _fioi
de cani_ means no great reproach in Venetian parlance; and parents of
the lower classes caressingly address their children in these terms.
Whereas to call one Figure of a Pig, is to wreak upon him the deadliest
insult which can be put into words.

In the _commedia a braccio_, before mentioned as the inheritance of the
Marionette, the dramatist furnished merely the plot, and the outline of
the action; the players filled in the character and dialogue. With any
people less quick-witted than the Italians, this sort of comedy must
have been insufferable, but it formed the delight of that people till
the middle of the last century, and even after Goldoni went to Paris
he furnished his Italian players with the _commedia a braccio_. I
have heard some very passable _gags_ at the Marionette, but the real
_commedia a braccio_ no longer exists, and its familiar and invariable
characters perform written plays.

Facanapa is a modern addition to the old stock of _dramatis personae_,
and he is now without doubt the popular favorite in Venice. He is
always, like Pantalon, a Venetian; but whereas the latter is always a
merchant, Facanapa is any thing that the exigency of the play demands.
He is a dwarf, even among puppets, and his dress invariably consists of
black knee-breeches and white stockings, a very long, full-skirted black
coat, and a three-cornered hat. His individual traits are displayed in
all his characters, and he is ever a coward, a boaster, and a liar; a
glutton and avaricious, but withal of an agreeable bonhomie that wins
the heart. To tell the truth, I care little for the plays in which he
has no part and I have learned to think a certain trick of his--lifting
his leg rigidly to a horizontal line, by way of emphasis, and saying,
“Capisse la?” or “Sa la?” (You understand? You know?)--one of the finest
things in the world.

In nearly all of Goldoni’s Venetian comedies, and in many which he wrote
in Italian, appear the standard associates of Facanapa,--Arlecchino, il
Dottore. Pantalon dei Bisognosi, and Brighella. The reader is at first
puzzled by their constant recurrence, but never weary of Goldoni’s witty
management of them. They are the chief persons of the obsolete _commedia
a braccio_, and have their nationality and peculiarities marked by
immemorial attribution. Pantalon is a Venetian merchant, rich, and
commonly the indulgent father of a wilful daughter or dissolute son,
figuring also sometimes as the childless uncle of large fortune. The
second old man is il Dottore, who is a Bolognese, and a doctor of the
University. Brighella and Arlecchino are both of Bergamo. The one is a
sharp and roguish servant, busy-body, and rascal; the other is dull and
foolish, and always masked and dressed in motley--a gibe at the poverty
of the Bergamasks among whom, moreover, the extremes of stupidity and
cunning are most usually found, according to the popular notion in

The plays of the Marionette are written expressly for them, and are
much shorter than the standard drama as it is known to us. They embrace,
however, a wide range of subjects, from lofty melodrama to broad farce,
as you may see by looking at the advertisements in the Venetian Gazettes
for any week past, where perhaps you shall find the plays performed
to have been: The Ninety-nine Misfortunes of Facanapa; Arlecchino, the
Sleeping King; Facanapa as Soldier in Catalonia; The Capture of Smyrna,
with Facanapa and Arlecchino Slaves in Smyrna (this play being repeated
several nights); and, Arlecchino and Facanapa Hunting an Ass. If you can
fancy people going night after night to this puppet-drama, and enjoying
it with the keenest appetite, you will not only do something toward
realizing to yourself the easily-pleased Italian nature, but you will
also suppose great excellence in the theatrical management. For my own
part, I find few things in life equal to the Marionette. I am never
tired of their bewitching absurdity, their inevitable defects, their
irresistible touches of verisimilitude. At their theatre I have seen the
relenting parent (Pantalon) twitchingly embrace his erring son, while
Arlecchino, as the large-hearted cobbler who has paid the house-rent of
the erring son when the prodigal was about to be cast into the street,
looked on and rubbed his hands with amiable satisfaction and the
conventional delight in benefaction which we all know. I have witnessed
the base terrors of Facanapa at an apparition, and I have beheld the
keen spiritual agonies of the Emperor Nicholas on hearing of the fall of
Sebastopol. Not many passages of real life have affected me as deeply
as the atrocious behavior of the brutal baronial brother-in-law, when
he responds to the expostulations of his friend the Knight of Malta,--a
puppet of shaky and vacillating presence, but a soul of steel and rock:

“Why, O baron, detain this unhappy lady in thy dungeons? Remember, she
is thy brother’s wife. Remember thine own honor. Think on the
sacred name of virtue.” (Wrigglingly, and with a set countenance and
gesticulations toward the pit.)

To which the ferocious baron makes answer with a sneering laugh,
“Honor?--I know it not! Virtue?--I detest it!” and attempting to
pass the knight, in order to inflict fresh indignities upon his
sister-in-law, he yields to the natural infirmities of rags and
pasteboard, and topples against him.

Facanapa, also, in his great scene of the Haunted Poet, is tremendous.
You discover him in bed, too much visited by the Muse to sleep, and
reading his manuscripts aloud to himself, after the manner of poets
when they cannot find other listeners. He is alarmed by various ghostly
noises in the house, and is often obliged to get up and examine the
dark corners of the room, and to look under the bed. When at last
the spectral head appears at the foot-board, Facanapa vanishes with a
miserable cry under the bed-clothes, and the scene closes. Intrinsically
the scene is not much, but this great actor throws into it a life, a
spirit, a drollery wholly irresistible.

The ballet at the Marionette is a triumph of choreographic art, and is
extremely funny. The _prima ballerina_ has all the difficult grace and
far-fetched arts of the _prima ballerina_ of flesh and blood; and when
the enthusiastic audience calls her back after the scene, she is humanly
delighted, and acknowledges the compliment with lifelike _empressement_.
I have no doubt the _corps de ballet_ have their private jealousies
and bickerings, when quietly laid away in boxes, and deprived of all
positive power by the removal of the cords which agitate their arms and
legs. The puppets are great in _pirouette_ and _pas seul_; but I think
the strictly dramatic part of such spectacular ballets, as The Fall of
Carthage, is their strong point.

The people who witness their performances are of all ages and
conditions--I remember to have once seen a Russian princess and some
German countesses in the pit--but the greater number of spectators are
young men of the middle classes, pretty shop-girls, and artisans and
their wives and children. The little theatre is a kind of trysting-place
for lovers in humble life, and there is a great deal of amusing drama
going on between the acts, in which the invariable Beppo and Nina of
the Venetian populace take the place of the invariable Arlecchino and
Facanapa of the stage. I one day discovered a letter at the bottom of
the Canal of the Giudecca, to which watery resting-place some recreant,
addressed as “Caro Antonio,” had consigned it; and from this letter I
came to know certainly of at least one love affair at the Marionette.
“Caro Antonio” was humbly besought, “if his heart still felt the force
of love,” to meet the writer (who softly reproached him with neglect) at
the Marionette the night of date, at six o’clock; and I would not like
to believe he could resist so tender a prayer, though perhaps it fell
out so. I fished up through the lucent water this despairing little
epistle,--it was full of womanly sweetness and bad spelling,--and dried
away its briny tears on the blade of my oar. If ever I thought to
keep it, with some vague purpose of offering it to any particularly
anxious-looking Nina at the Marionette as to the probable writer--its
unaccountable loss spared me the delicate office. Still, however, when
I go to see the puppets, it is with an interest divided between the
drolleries of Facanapa, and the sad presence of expectation somewhere
among the groups of dark-eyed girls there, who wear such immense hoops
under such greasy dresses, who part their hair at one side, and call
each other “Ciò!” Where art thou, O fickle and cruel, yet ever dear
Antonio? All unconscious, I think,--gallantly posed against the wall,
thy slouch hat brought forward to the point of thy long cigar, the arms
of thy velvet jacket folded on thy breast, and thy ear-rings softly
twinkling in the light.



When I first came to Venice, I accepted the fate appointed to young men
on the Continent. I took lodgings, and I began dining drearily at the
restaurants. Worse prandial fortunes may befall one, but it is hard to
conceive of the continuance of so great unhappiness elsewhere; while
the restaurant life is an established and permanent thing in Italy,
for every bachelor and for many forlorn families. It is not because the
restaurants are very dirty--if you wipe your plate and glass carefully
before using them, they need not stomach you; it is not because the
rooms are cold--if you sit near the great vase of smoldering embers in
the centre of each room you may suffocate in comparative comfort; it is
not because the prices are great--they are really very reasonable; it
is not for any very tangible fault that I object to life at the
restaurants, and yet I cannot think of its hopeless homelessness without
rebellion against the whole system it implies, as something unnatural
and insufferable.

But before we come to look closely at this aspect of Italian
civilization, it is better to look first at a very noticeable trait of
Italian character,--temperance in eating and drinking. As to the poorer
classes, one observes without great surprise how slenderly they fare,
and how with a great habit of talking of meat and drink, the verb
_mangiare_ remains in fact for the most part inactive with them. But
it is only just to say that this virtue of abstinence seems to be not
wholly the result of necessity, for it prevails with other classes which
could well afford the opposite vice. Meat and drink do not form the
substance of conviviality with Venetians, as with the Germans and the
English, and in degree with ourselves; and I have often noticed on the
Mondays-at-the-Gardens, and other social festivals of the people,
how the crowd amused itself with any thing--music, dancing, walking,
talking--any thing but the great northern pastime of gluttony. Knowing
the life of the place, I make quite sure that Venetian gayety is on few
occasions connected with repletion; and I am ashamed to confess that I
have not always been able to repress a feeling of stupid scorn for the
empty stomachs everywhere, which do not even ask to be filled, or, at
least, do not insist upon it. The truth is, the North has a gloomy
pride in gastronomic excess, which unfits her children to appreciate the
cheerful prudence of the South.

Venetians eat but one meal a day, which is dinner. They breakfast on
a piece of bread with coffee and milk; supper is a little cup of black
coffee, or an ice, taken at a caffè. The coffee, however, is repeated
frequently throughout the day, and in the summertime fruit is eaten, but
eaten sparingly, like everything else. As to the nature of the dinner,
it of course varies somewhat according to the nature of the diner; but
in most families of the middle class a dinner at home consists of a
piece of boiled beef, a _minestra_ (a soup thickened with vegetables,
tripe, and rice), a vegetable dish of some kind, and the wine of the
country. The failings of the repast among all classes lean to the
side of simplicity, and the abstemious character of the Venetian finds
sufficient comment in his familiar invitation to dinner: “_Venga a
mangiar quattro risi con me_.” (Come eat four grains of rice with me.)

But invitations to dinner have never formed a prime element of
hospitality in Venice. Goldoni notices this fact in his memoirs, and
speaking of the city in the early half of the last century, he says
that the number and excellence of the eating-houses in the city made
invitations to dinner at private houses rare, and superfluous among the
courtesies offered to strangers.

The Venetian does not, like the Spaniard, place his house at your
disposition, and, having extended this splendid invitation, consider the
duties of hospitality fulfilled; he does not appear to think you want to
make use of his house for social purposes, preferring himself the caffè,
and finding home and comfort there, rather than under his own roof.
“What caffè do you frequent? Ah! so do I. We shall meet often there.”
 This is frequently your new acquaintance’s promise of friendship. And
one may even learn to like the social footing on which people meet at
the caffè, as well as that of the parlor or drawing-room. I could not
help thinking one evening at Padua, while we sat talking with some
pleasant Paduans in one of the magnificent saloons of the Caffè
Pedrocchi, that I should like to go there for society, if I could always
find it there, much better than to private houses. There is far greater
ease and freedom, more elegance and luxury, and not the slightest weight
of obligation laid upon you for the gratification your friend’s company
has given you. One has not to be a debtor in the sum of a friend’s
outlay for house, servants, refreshments, and the like. Nowhere in
Europe is the senseless and wasteful American custom of _treating_
known; and nothing could be more especially foreign to the frugal
instincts and habits of the Italians. So, when a party of friends at a
caffè eat or drink, each one pays for what he takes, and pecuniarily,
the enjoyment of the evening is uncostly or not, according as each
prefers. Of course no one sits down in such a place without calling for
something; but I have frequently seen people respond to this demand of
custom by ordering a glass of water with anise, at the expense of two
soldi. A cup of black coffee, for five soldi, secures a chair, a table,
and as many journals as you like, for as long time as you like.

I say, a stranger may learn to like the life of the caffè,--that of the
restaurant never; though the habit of frequenting the restaurants, to
which Goldoni somewhat vaingloriously refers, seems to have grown upon
the Venetians with the lapse of time. The eating-houses are almost
without number, and are of every degree, from the shop of the
sausage-maker, who supplies gondoliers and facchini with bowls of
_sguassetto_, to the Caffè Florian. They all have names which are not
strange to European ears, but which ape sufficiently amusing to people
who come from a land where nearly every public thing is named from
some inspiration of patriotism or local pride. In Venice the principal
restaurants are called The Steamboat, The Savage, The Little Horse, The
Black Hat, and The Pictures; and I do not know that any one of them is
more uncomfortable, uncleanly, or noisy than another, or that any one of
them suffers from the fact that all are bad.

You do not get breakfast at the restaurant for the reason, before
stated, of the breakfast’s unsubstantiality. The dining commences about
three o’clock in the afternoon, and continues till nine o’clock, most
people dining at five or six. As a rule the attendance is insufficient,
and no guest is served until he has made a savage clapping on the
tables, or clinking on his glass or plate. Then a hard-pushed waiter
appears, and calls out, dramatically, “Behold me!” takes the order,
shrieks it to the cook, and returning with the dinner, cries out again,
more dramatically than ever, “Behold it ready!” and arrays it with a
great flourish on the table. I have dined in an hotel at Niagara, to the
music of a brass band; but I did not find that so utterly bewildering,
so destructive of the individual savor of the dishes, and so conducive
to absent-minded gluttony, as I at first found the constant rush and
clamor of the waiters in the Venetian restaurants. The guests are,
for the most part, patient and quiet enough, eating their minestra and
boiled beef in such peace as the surrounding uproar permits them, and
seldom making acquaintance with each other. It is a mistake, I think,
to expect much talk from any people at dinner. The ingenious English
tourists who visit the United States from time to time, find us silent
over our meat, and I have noticed the like trait among people of divers
races in Europe.

As I have said, the greater part of the diners at the restaurants are
single, and seem to have no knowledge of each other. Perhaps the gill
of the fiendish wine of the country, which they drink at their meals,
is rather calculated to chill than warm the heart. But, in any case, a
drearier set of my fellow-beings I have never seen,--no, not at evening
parties,--and I conceive that their life in lodgings, at the caffè and
the restaurant, remote from the society of women and all the higher
privileges of fellowship for which men herd together, is at once the
most gross and insipid, the most selfish and comfortless life in the
world. Our boarding-house life in America, dull, stupid, and flat as
it often is, seems to me infinitely better than the restaurant life
of young Italy. It is creditable to Latin Europe that, with all this
homelessness and domestic outlawry, its young men still preserve the
gentleness of civilization.

The families that share the exile of the eating-houses sometimes make
together a feeble buzz of conversation, but the unfriendly spirit of
the place seems soon to silence them. Undoubtedly they frequent the
restaurant for economy’s sake. Fuel is costly, and the restaurant is
cheap, and its cooking better than they could perhaps otherwise afford
to have. Indeed, so cheap is the restaurant that actual experience
proved the cost of a dinner there to be little more than the cost of
the raw material in the market. From this inexpensiveness comes also the
custom, which is common, of sending home to purchasers meals from the

As one descends in the scale of the restaurants, the difference is not
so noticeable in the prices of the same dishes, as in the substitution
of cheaper varieties of food. At the best eating-houses, the Gallic
traditions bear sway more or less, but in the poorer sort the cooking
is done entirely by native artists, deriving their inspirations from
the unsophisticated tastes of exclusively native diners. It is perhaps
needless to say that they grow characteristic and picturesque as they
grow dirty and cheap, until at last the cook-shop perfects the descent
with a triumph of raciness and local coloring. The cook-shop in Venice
opens upon you at almost every turn,--everywhere, in fact, but in the
Piazza and the Merceria,--and looking in, you see its vast heaps of
frying fish, and its huge caldrons of ever-boiling broth which smell
to heaven with garlic and onions. In the seducing windows smoke golden
mountains of _polenta_ (a thicker kind of mush or hasty-pudding, made
of Indian meal, and universally eaten in North Italy), platters of crisp
minnows, bowls of rice, roast poultry, dishes of snails and liver; and
around the fascinating walls hang huge plates of bronzed earthenware
for a lavish and a hospitable show, and for the representation of those
scenes of Venetian story which are modeled upon them in bass-relief.
Here I like to take my unknown friend--my scoundrel facchino or rascal
gondolier--as he comes to buy his dinner, and bargains eloquently with
the cook, who stands with a huge ladle in his hand capable of skimming
mysterious things from vasty depths. I am spell-bound by the drama which
ensues, and in which all the chords of the human heart are touched, from
those that tremble at high tragedy, to those that are shaken by broad
farce. When the diner has bought his dinner, and issues forth with
his polenta in one hand, and his fried minnows or stewed snails in the
other, my fancy fondly follows him to his gondola-station, where he eats
it, and quarrels volubly with other gondoliers across the Grand Canal.

A simpler and less ambitious sort of cook-shop abounds in the region
of Rialto, where on market mornings I have seen it driving a prodigious
business with peasants, gondoliers, and laborers. Its more limited
resources consist chiefly of fried eels, fish, polenta, and
_sguassetto_. The latter is a true _roba veneziana_, and is a
loud-flavored broth, made of those desperate scraps of meat which
are found impracticable even by the sausage-makers. Another, but more
delicate dish, peculiar to the place, is the clotted blood of poultry,
fried in slices with onions. A great number of the families of the poor
breakfast at these shops very abundantly, for three soldi each person.

In Venice every holiday has its appropriate viand. During carnival all
the butter and cheese shop-windows are whitened with the snow of
beaten cream--_panamontata_. At San Martino the bakers parade troops of
gingerbread warriors. Later, for Christmas, comes _mandorlato_, which is
a candy made of honey and enriched with almonds. In its season only can
any of these devotional delicacies be had; but there is a species
of cruller, fried in oil, which has all seasons for its own. On the
occasion of every _festa_, and of every _sagra_ (which is the holiday of
one parish only), stalls are erected in the squares for the cooking and
sale of these crullers, between which and the religious sentiment proper
to the whole year there seems to be some occult relation.

In the winter, the whole city appears to abandon herself to cooking for
the public, till she threatens to hopelessly disorder the law of demand
and supply. There are, to begin with, the caffè and restaurants of
every class. Then there are the cook-shops, and the poulterers’, and the
sausage-makers’. Then, also, every fruit-stall is misty and odorous with
roast apples, boiled beans, cabbage, and potatoes. The chestnut-roasters
infest every corner, and men women, and children cry roast pumpkin at
every turn--till, at last, hunger seems an absurd and foolish vice,
and the ubiquitous beggars, no less than the habitual abstemiousness of
every class of the population, become the most perplexing and maddening
of anomalies.



I hope that it is by a not unnatural progress I pass from speaking of
dinners and diners to the kindred subject of the present chapter, and I
trust the reader will not disdain the lowly-minded muse that sings this
mild domestic lay. I was resolved in writing this book to tell what I
had found most books of travel very slow to tell,--as much as possible
of the everyday life of a people whose habits are so different from our
own; endeavoring to develop a just notion of their character, not only
from the show-traits which strangers are most likely to see, but also
from experience of such things as strangers are most likely to miss.

The absolute want of society of my own nation in Venice would have
thrown me upon study of the people for my amusement, even if I had cared
to learn nothing of them; and the necessity of economical housekeeping
would have caused me to live in the frugal Venetian fashion, even if
I had been disposed to remain a foreigner in every thing. Of bachelor
lodgings I had sufficient experience during my first year; but as most
prudent travelers who visit the city for a week take lodgings, I need
not describe my own particularly. You can tell the houses in which
there are rooms to let, by the squares of white paper fastened to the
window-shutters; and a casual glance as you pass through the streets,
gives you the idea that the chief income of the place is derived from
letting lodgings. Carpetless, dreary barracks the rooms usually are,
with an uncompromising squareness of prints upon the wall, an appalling
breadth of husk-bed, a niggardness of wash-bowl, and an obduracy of
sofa, never, never to be dissociated in their victim’s mind from the
idea of the villanous hard bread of Venice on which the gloomy landlady
sustains her life with its immutable purposes of plunder. Flabbiness
without softness is the tone of these discouraging chambers, which are
dear or not according to the season and the situation. On the sunlit
Riva during winter, and on the Grand Canal in summer, they are costly
enough, but they are to be found on nearly all the squares at reasonable
rates. On the narrow streets, where most native bachelors have them,
they are absurdly cheap.

As in nearly all places on the Continent, a house in Venice means a
number of rooms, including a whole story in a building, or part of it
only, but always completely separated from the story above and below, or
from the other rooms on the same floor. Every house has its own entrance
from the street, or by a common hall and stairway from the ground-floor,
where are the cellars or store-rooms, while each kitchen is usually on
a level with the other rooms of the house to which it belongs. The
isolation of the different families is secured (as perfectly as where
a building is solely appropriated to each), either by the exclusive
possession of a streetdoor, [Footnote: Where the street entrance is in
common, every floor has its bell, which being sounded, summons a servant
to some upper window with the demand, most formidable to strangers,
“_Chi xe?_” (Who is it?) But you do not answer with your name. You
reply, “_Amici!_” (Friends!) on which comforting reassurance, the
servant draws the latch of the door by a wire running upward to her
hand, and permits you to enter and wander about at your leisure till you
reach her secret height. This is, supposing the master or mistress of
the house to be at home. If they are not in, she answers your “_Amici!_”
 with “_No ghe ne xe!_” (Nobody here!) and lets down a basket by a
string outside the window, and fishes up your card.] or by the unsocial
domestic habits of Europe. You bow and give good-day to the people whom
you meet in the common hall and on the common stairway, but you rarely
know more of them than their names, and you certainly care nothing about
them. The sociability of Europe, and more especially of Southern Europe,
is shown abroad; under the domestic roof it dwindles and disappears. And
indeed it is no wonder, considering how dispiriting and comfortless most
of the houses are. The lower windows are heavily barred with iron; the
wood-work is rude, even in many palaces in Venice; the rest is stone
and stucco; the walls are not often papered, though they are sometimes
painted: the most pleasing and inviting feature of the interior is the
frescoed ceiling of the better rooms. The windows shut imperfectly,
the heavy wooden blinds imperviously (is it worth while to observe that
there are no Venetian blinds in Venice?); the doors lift slantingly from
the floor, in which their lower hinges are imbedded; the stoves are of
plaster, and consume fuel without just return of heat; the balconies
alone are always charming, whether they hang high over the streets, or
look out upon the canals, and, with the gayly painted ceilings, go far
to make the houses habitable.

It happens in the case of houses, as with nearly every thing else in
Italy, that you pay about the same price for half the comfort that you
get in America. In Venice, most of the desirable situations are on the
Grand Canal; but here the rents are something absurdly high, when taken
in consideration with the fact that the city is not made a place of
residence by foreigners like Florence, and that it has no commercial
activity to enhance the cost of living. Househunting, under these
circumstances, becomes an office of constant surprise and disconcertment
to the stranger. You look, for example, at a suite of rooms in a
tumble-down old palace, where the walls, shamelessly smarted up with
coarse paper, crumble at your touch; where the floor rises and falls
like the sea, and the door-frames and window-cases have long lost all
recollection of the plumb. Madama la Baronessa is at present occupying
these pleasant apartments, and you only gain admission to them after
an embassy to procure her permission. Madama la Baronessa receives
you courteously, and you pass through her rooms, which are a little
in disorder, the Baronessa being on the point of removal. Madama la
Baronessa’s hoop-skirts prevail upon the floors; and at the side of the
couch which her form lately pressed in slumber, you observe a French
novel and a wasted candle in the society of a half-bottle of the wine of
the country. A bedroomy smell pervades the whole suite, and through the
open window comes a curious stench explained as the odor of Madama la
Baronessa’s guinea-pigs, of which she is so fond that she has had their
sty placed immediately under her window in the garden. It is this garden
which has first taken your heart, with a glimpse caught through the
great open door of the palace. It is disordered and wild, but so much
the better; its firs are very thick and dark, and there are certain
statues, fauns and nymphs, which weather stains and mosses have made
much decenter than the sculptor intended. You think that for this
garden’s sake you could put up with the house, which must be very cheap.
What is the price of the rooms? you ask of the smiling landlord. He
answers, without winking, “If taken for several years, a thousand
florins a year.” At which you suppress the whistle of disdainful
surprise, and say you think it will not suit. He calls your attention to
the sun, which comes in at every side, which will roast you in summer,
and will not (as he would have you think) warm you in winter. “But there
is another apartment,”--through which you drag languidly. It is empty
now, being last inhabited by an English Ledi,--and her stove-pipes
went out of the windows, and blackened the shabby stucco front of the
villanous old palace.

In a back court, upon a filthy canal, you chance on a house, the
curiously frescoed front of which tempts you within. A building which
has a lady and gentleman painted in fresco, and making love from balcony
to balcony, on the façade, as well as Arlecchino depicted in the act of
leaping from the second to the third story, promises something. Promises
something, but does not fulfill the promise. The interior is fresh,
clean, and new, and cold and dark as a cellar. This house--that is to
say, a floor of the house--you may have for four hundred florins a year;
and then farewell the world and the light of the sun! for neither will
ever find you in that back court, and you will never see any body but
the neighboring laundresses and their children, who cannot enough admire
the front of your house.

_E via in seguito!_ This is of house keeping, not house-hunting. There
are pleasant and habitable houses in Venice--but they are not cheap, as
many of the uninhabitable houses also are not. Here, discomfort and ruin
have their price, and the tumble-down is patched up and sold at rates
astonishing to innocent strangers who come from countries in good
repair, where the tumble-down is worth nothing. If I were not ashamed
of the idle and foolish old superstitions in which I once believed
concerning life in Italy, I would tell how I came gradually to expect
very little for a great deal; and how a knowledge of many houses to let,
made me more and more contented with the house we had taken.

It was in one corner of an old palace on the Grand Canal, and the window
of the little parlor looked down upon the water, which had made friends
with its painted ceiling, and bestowed tremulous, golden smiles upon
it when the sun shone. The dining-room was not so much favored by the
water, but it gave upon some green and ever-rustling tree-tops,
that rose to it from a tiny garden-ground, no bigger than a pocket
handkerchief. Through this window, also, we could see the quaint,
picturesque life of the canal; and from another room we could reach
a little terrace above the water. We were not in the _appartamento
signorile_, [Footnote: The noble floor--as the second or third story
of the palace is called.]--that was above,--but we were more snugly
quartered on the first story from the ground-floor, commonly used as a
winter apartment in the old times. But it had been cut up, and suites of
rooms had been broken according to the caprice of successive landlords,
till it was not at all palatial any more. The upper stories still
retained something of former grandeur, and had acquired with time more
than former discomfort. We were not envious of them, for they were
humbly let at a price less than we paid; though we could not quite
repress a covetous yearning for their arched and carven windows, which
we saw sometimes from the canal, above the tops of the garden trees.

The gondoliers used always to point out our palace (which was called
Casa Falier) as the house in which Marino Faliero was born; and for a
long time we clung to the hope that it might be so. But however
pleasant it was, we were forced, on reading up the subject a little, to
relinquish our illusion, and accredit an old palace at Santi Apostoli
with the distinction we would fain have claimed for ours. I am rather at
a loss to explain how it made our lives in Casa Falier any pleasanter to
think that a beheaded traitor had been born in it, but we relished the
superstition amazingly as long as we could possibly believe in it. What
went far to confirm us at first in our credulity was the residence, in
another part of the palace, of the Canonico Falier, a lineal descendant
of the unhappy doge. He was a very mild-faced old priest, with a white
head, which he carried downcast, and crimson legs, on which he moved but
feebly. He owned the rooms in which he lived, and the apartment in the
front of the palace just above our own. The rest of the house belonged
to another, for in Venice many of the palaces are divided up and sold
among different purchasers, floor by floor, and sometimes even room by

But the tenantry of Casa Falier was far more various than its
proprietorship. Over our heads dwelt a Dalmatian family; below our feet
a Frenchwoman; at our right, upon the same floor, an English gentleman;
under him a French family; and over him the family of a marquis in exile
from Modena. Except with Mr. ----, the Englishman, who was at once our
friend and landlord (impossible as this may appear to those who know
any thing of landlords in Italy), we had no acquaintance, beyond that of
salutation, with the many nations represented in our house. We could not
help holding the French people in some sort responsible for the
invasion of Mexico; and, though opportunity offered for cultivating the
acquaintance of the Modenese, we did not improve it.

As for our Dalmatian friends, we met them and bowed to them a great
deal, and we heard them overhead in frequent athletic games, involving
noise as of the maneuvering of cavalry; and as they stood a good deal
on their balcony, and looked down upon us on ours, we sometimes enjoyed
seeing them admirably foreshortened like figures in a frescoed ceiling.
The father of this family was a little man of a solemn and impressive
demeanor, who had no other occupation but to walk up and down the city
and view its monuments, for which purpose he one day informed us he had
left his native place in Dalmatia, after forty years’ study of Venetian
history. He further told us that this was by no means worth the time
given it; that whereas the streets of Venice were sepulchres in point
of narrowness and obscurity, he had a house in Zara, from the windows
of which you might see for miles uninterruptedly! This little gentleman
wore a black hat, in the last vivid polish of respectability, and I
think fortune was not his friend. The hat was too large for him, as the
hats of Italians always are; it came down to his eyes, and he carried a
cane. Every evening he marched solemnly at the head of a procession of
his handsome young children, who went to hear the military music in St.
Mark’s Square.

The entrance to the house of the Dalmatians--we never knew their
names--gave access also to a house in the story above them, which
belonged to some mysterious person described on his door-plate as “Co.
Prata.” I think we never saw Co. Prata himself, and only by chance
some members of his family when they came back from their summer in the
country to spend the winter in the city. Prata’s “Co.,” we gradually
learnt, meant “Conte,” and the little counts and countesses, his
children, immediately on their arrival took an active part in the
exercises of the Dalmatian cavalry. Later in the fall, certain of the
count’s vassals came to the _riva_ [Footnote: The gondola landing-stairs
which descend to the water before palace-doors and at the ends of
streets.] in one of the great boats of the Po, with a load of brush and
corncobs for fuel--and this is all we ever knew of our neighbors on the
fourth floor. As long as he remained “Co.” we yearned to know who and
what he was; being interpreted as Conte Prata, he ceased to interest us.

Such, then, was the house, and such the neighborhood in which two little
people, just married, came to live in Venice.

They were by nature of the order of shorn lambs, and Providence,
tempering the inclemency of the domestic situation, gave them Giovanna.

The house was furnished throughout, and Giovanna had been furnished with
it. She was at hand to greet the new-comers, and “This is my wife, the
new mistress,” said the young _Paron_ [Footnote: _Padrone_ in Italian.
A salutation with Venetian friends, and the title by which Venetian
servants always designate their employers.] with the bashful pride
proper to the time and place. Giovanna glowed welcome, and said, with
adventurous politeness, she was very glad of it.

“_Serva sua!_”

The _Parona_, not knowing Italian, laughed in English.

So Giovanna took possession of us, and acting upon the great truth that
handsome is that handsome does, began at once to make herself a thing of

As a measure of convenience and of deference to her feelings, we
immediately resolved to call her G., merely, when speaking of her
in English, instead of Giovanna, which would have troubled her with
conjecture concerning what was said of her. And as G. thus became the
centre around which our domestic life revolved, she must be somewhat
particularly treated of in this account of our housekeeping. I suppose
that, given certain temperaments and certain circumstances, this would
have been much like keeping play-house anywhere; in Venice it had, but
for the unmistakable florins it cost, a curious property of unreality
and impermanency. It is sufficiently bad to live in a rented house; in
a house which you have hired ready-furnished, it is long till your life
takes root, and Home blossoms up in the alien place. For a great while
we regarded our house merely as very pleasant lodgings, and we were slow
to form any relations which could take from our residence its temporary
character. Had we but thought to get in debt to the butcher, the baker,
and the grocer, we might have gone far to establish ourselves at once;
but we imprudently paid our way, and consequently had no ties to bind us
to our fellow-creatures. In Venice provisions are bought by housekeepers
on a scale surprisingly small to one accustomed to wholesale American
ways, and G., having the purse, made our little purchases in cash,
never buying more than enough for one meal at a time. Every morning,
the fruits and vegetables are distributed from the great market at the
Rialto among a hundred greengrocers’ stalls in all parts of the city;
bread (which is never made at home) is found fresh at the baker’s; there
is a butcher’s stall in each campo with fresh meat. These shops are
therefore resorted to for family supplies day by day; and the poor lay
in provisions there in portions graduated to a soldo of their ready
means. A great Bostonian whom I remember to have heard speculate on the
superiority of a state of civilization in which you could buy two cents’
worth of beef to that in which so small a quantity was unpurchasable,
would find the system perfected here, where you can buy half a cent’s
worth. It is a system friendly to poverty, and the small retail prices
approximate very closely the real value of the stuff sold, as we
sometimes proved by offering to purchase in quantity. Usually no
reduction would be made from the retail rate, and it was sufficiently
amusing to have the dealer figure up the cost of the quantity we
proposed to buy, and then exhibit an exact multiplication of his retail
rate by our twenty or fifty. Say an orange is worth a soldo: you get no
more than a hundred for a florin, though the dealer will cheerfully go
under that number if he can cheat you in the count. So in most things
we found it better to let G. do the marketing in her own small Venetian
fashion, and “guard our strangeness.”

But there were some things which must be brought to the house by the
dealers, such as water for drinking and cooking, which is drawn from
public cisterns in the squares, and carried by stout young girls to all
the houses. These _bigolanti_ all come from the mountains of Friuli;
they all have rosy cheeks, white teeth, bright eyes, and no waists
whatever (in the fashionable sense), but abundance of back. The cisterns
are opened about eight o’clock in the morning, and then their day’s
work begins with chatter, and splashing, and drawing up buckets from the
wells; and each sturdy little maiden in turn trots off under a burden
of two buckets,--one appended from either end of a bow resting upon the
right shoulder. The water is very good, for it is the rain which
falls on the shelving surface of the campo, and soaks through a bed of
sea-sand around the cisterns into the cool depths below. The bigolante
comes every morning and empties her brazen buckets into the great
picturesque jars of porous earthenware which ornament Venetian kitchens;
and the daily supply of water costs a moderate family about a florin a

Fuel is likewise brought to your house, but this arrives in boats. It is
cut upon the eastern shore of the Adriatic, and comes to Venice in small
coasting vessels, each of which has a plump captain in command, whose
red face is so cunningly blended with his cap of scarlet flannel that it
is hard on a breezy day to tell where the one begins and the other ends.
These vessels anchor off the Custom House in the Guidecca Canal in the
fall, and lie there all winter (or until their cargo of fuel is sold), a
great part of the time under the charge solely of a small yellow dog of
the irascible breed common to the boats of the Po. Thither the smaller
dealers in firewood resort, and carry thence supplies of fuel to all
parts of the city, melodiously crying their wares up and down the
canals, and penetrating the land on foot with specimen bundles of fagots
in their arms. They are not, as a class, imaginative, I think--their
fancy seldom rising beyond the invention that their fagots are beautiful
and sound and dry. But our particular woodman was, in his way, a gifted
man. Long before I had dealings with him, I knew him by the superb song,
or rather incantation, with which he announced his coming on the Grand
Canal. The purport of this was merely that his bark was called the
Beautiful Caroline, and that his fagots were fine; but he so dwelt upon
the hidden beauties of this idea, and so prolonged their effect upon the
mind by artful repetition, and the full, round, and resonant roar with
which he closed his triumphal hymn, that the spirit was taken with the
charm, and held in breathless admiration. By all odds, this woodman’s
cry was the most impressive of all the street cries of Venice. There
may have been an exquisite sadness and sweetness in the wail of the
chimney-sweep; a winning pathos in the voice of the vender of roast
pumpkin; an oriental fancy and splendor in the fruiterers who cried
“Melons with hearts of fire!” and “Juicy pears that bathe your
beard!”--there may have been something peculiarly effective in the song
of the chestnut-man who shouted “Fat chestnuts,” and added, after a
lapse in which you got almost beyond hearing, “and well cooked!”--I do
not deny that there was a seductive sincerity in the proclamation of
one whose peaches could _not_ be called beautiful to look upon, and were
consequently advertised as “Ugly, but good!”--I say nothing to detract
from the merits of harmonious chair-menders;--to my ears the shout
of the melodious fisherman was delectable music, and all the birds of
summer sang in the voices of the countrymen who sold finches and larks
in cages, and roses and pinks in pots;--but I say, after all, none
of these people combined the vocal power, the sonorous movement, the
delicate grace, and the vast compass of our woodman. Yet this man, as
far as virtue went, was _vox et praeterea nihil_. He was a vagabond of
the most abandoned; he was habitually in drink, and I think his sins
had gone near to make him mad--at any rate he was of a most lunatical
deportment. In other lands, the man of whom you are a regular purchaser,
serves you well; in Italy he conceives that his long service gives him
the right to plunder you if possible. I felt in every fibre that this
woodman invariably cheated me in measurement, and, indeed, he
scarcely denied it on accusation. But my single experience of the
more magnificent scoundrels of whom _he_ bought the wood originally,
contented me with the swindle with which I had become familiarized. On
this occasion I took a boat and went to the Custom House, to get my fuel
at first hand. The captain of the ship which I boarded wished me to pay
more than I gave for fuel delivered at my door, and thereupon ensued the
tragic scene of bargaining, as these things are conducted in Italy. We
stood up and bargained, we sat down and bargained; the captain turned
his back upon me in indignation; I parted from him and took to my boat
in scorn; he called me back and displayed the wood--good, sound, dryer
than bones; he pointed to the threatening heavens, and declared that it
would snow that night, and on the morrow I could not get wood for twice
the present price; but I laughed incredulously. Then my captain took
another tack, and tried to make the contract in obsolete currencies, in
Austrian pounds, in Venetian pounds, but as I inexorably reduced these
into familiar money, he paused desperately, and made me an offer which
I accepted with mistaken exultation. For my captain was shrewder than I,
and held arts of measurement in reserve against me. He agreed that
the measurement and transportation should not cost me the value of his
tooth-pick--quite an old and worthless one--which he showed me. Yet I
was surprised into the payment of a youth whom this man called to assist
at the measurement, and I had to give the boatman drink-money at the
end. He promised that the measure should be just: yet if I lifted my eye
from the work he placed the logs slantingly on the measure, and threw
in knotty chunks that crowded wholesome fuel out, and let the daylight
through and through the pile. I protested, and he admitted the wrong
when I pointed it out: “_Ga razon, lu!_” (He’s right!) he said to
his fellows in infamy, and throwing aside the objectionable pieces,
proceeded to evade justice by new artifices. When I had this memorable
load of wood housed at home, I found that it had cost just what I paid
my woodman, and that I had additionally lost my self-respect in being
plundered before my face, and I resolved thereafter to be cheated
in quiet dignity behind my back. The woodman exulted in his restored
sovereignty, and I lost nothing in penalty for my revolt.

Among other provisioners who come to your house in Venice, are those
ancient peasant-women, who bring fresh milk in bottles carefully packed
in baskets filled with straw. They set off the whiteness of their wares
by the brownness of their sunburnt hands and faces, and bear in their
general stoutness and burliness of presence, a curious resemblance to
their own comfortable bottles. They wear broad straw hats, and dangling
ear-rings of yellow gold, and are the pleasantest sight of the morning
streets of Venice, to the stoniness of which they bring a sense of
the country’s clovery pasturage, in the milk just drawn from the great
cream-colored cows.

Fishermen, also, come down the little _calli_--with shallow baskets
of fish upon their heads and under either arm, and cry their soles and
mackerel to the neighborhood, stopping now and then at some door to
bargain away the eels which they chop into sections as the thrilling
drama proceeds, and hand over as a denouement at the purchaser’s own
price. “Beautiful and all alive!” is the engaging cry with which they
hawk their fish.

Besides these daily purveyors, there are men of divers arts who come
to exercise their crafts at your house: not chimney-sweeps merely,
but glaziers, and that sort of workmen, and, best of all,
chair-menders,--who bear a mended chair upon their shoulders for a
sign, with pieces of white wood for further mending, a drawing-knife, a
hammer, and a sheaf of rushes, and who sit down at your door, and plait
the rush bottoms of your kitchen-chairs anew, and make heaps of fragrant
whittlings with their knives, and gossip with your serving-woman.

But in the mean time our own serving-woman Giovanna, the great central
principle of our housekeeping, is waiting to be personally presented to
the company. In Italy, there are old crones so haggard, that it is hard
not to believe them created just as crooked, and foul, and full of fluff
and years as you behold them, and you cannot understand how so much
frowziness and so little hair, so great show of fangs and so few teeth,
are growths from any ordinary human birth. G. is no longer young, but
she is not after the likeness of these old women. It is of a middle age,
unbeginning, interminable, of which she gives you the impression.
She has brown apple-cheeks, just touched with frost; her nose is of a
strawberry formation abounding in small dints, and having the slightly
shrunken effect observable in tardy perfections of the fruit mentioned.
A tough, pleasant, indestructible woman--for use, we thought, not
ornament--the mother of a family, a good Catholic, and the flower of

I do not think that Venetian servants are, as a class, given to
pilfering; but knowing ourselves subject by nature to pillage, we cannot
repress a feeling of gratitude to G. that she does not prey upon us. She
strictly accounts for all money given her at the close of each week, and
to this end keeps a kind of account-book, which I cannot help regarding
as in some sort an inspired volume, being privy to the fact, confirmed
by her own confession, that G. is not good for reading and writing. On
settling with her I have been permitted to look into this book, which is
all in capital letters,--each the evident result of serious labor,--with
figures representing combinations of the pot-hook according to bold
and original conceptions. The spelling is also a remarkable effort of
creative genius. The only difficulty under which the author labors in
regard to the book is the confusion naturally resulting from the effort
to get literature right side up when it has got upside down. The writing
is a kind of pugilism--the strokes being made straight out from the
shoulder. The account-book is always carried about with her in a
fathomless pocket overflowing with the aggregations of a housekeeper
who can throw nothing away, to wit: matchboxes, now appointed to hold
buttons and hooks-and-eyes; beeswax in the lump; the door-key (which
in Venice takes a formidable size, and impresses you at first sight as
ordnance); a patch-bag; a porte-monnaie; many lead-pencils in the stump;
scissors, pincushions, and the Beata Vergine in a frame. Indeed, this
incapability of throwing things away is made to bear rather severely
upon us in some things, such as the continual reappearance of familiar
dishes at table--particularly veteran _bifsteca_. But we fancy that the
same frugal instinct is exercised to our advantage and comfort in other
things, for G. makes a great show and merit of denying our charity to
those bold and adventurous children of sorrow, who do not scruple to
ring your door-bell, and demand alms. It is true that with G., as
with every Italian, almsgiving enters into the theory and practice of
Christian life, but she will not suffer misery to abuse its privileges.
She has no hesitation, however, in bringing certain objects of
compassion to our notice, and she procures small services to be done for
us by many lame and halt of her acquaintance. Having bought my boat (I
come, in time, to be willing to sell it again for half its cost to me),
I require a menial to clean it now and then, and Giovanna first calls
me a youthful Gobbo for the work,--a festive hunchback, a bright-hearted
whistler of comic opera. Whether this blithe humor is not considered
decent, I do not know, but though the Gobbo serves me faithfully, I find
him one day replaced by a venerable old man, whom--from his personal
resemblance to Time--I should think much better occupied with an
hourglass, or engaged with a scythe in mowing me and other mortals down,
than in cleaning my boat. But all day long he sits on my riva in the
sun, when it shines, gazing fixedly at my boat; and when the day is
dark, he lurks about the street, accessible to my slightest boating
impulse. He salutes my going out and coming in with grave reverence,
and I think he has no work to do but that which G.’s wise compassion has
given him from me. Suddenly, like the Gobbo, the Veccio also disappears,
and I hear vaguely--for in Venice you never know any thing with
precision--that he has found a regular employment in Padua, and again
that he is dead. While he lasts, G. has a pleasant, even a sportive
manner with this poor old man, calculated to cheer his declining years;
but, as I say, cases of insolent and aggressive misery fail to touch
her. The kind of wretchedness that comes breathing woe and _sciampagnin_
[Footnote: Little champagne,--the name which the Venetian populace gave
to a fierce and deadly kind of brandy drunk during the scarcity of wine.
After the introduction of coal-oil this liquor came to be jocosely known
as _petrolio_.] under our window, and there spends a leisure hour in the
rehearsal of distress, establishes no claim either upon her pity or her
weakness. She is deaf to the voice of that sorrow, and the monotonous
whine of that dolor cannot move her to the purchase of a guilty
tranquillity. I imagine, however, that she is afraid to deny charity to
the fat Capuchin friar in spectacles and bare feet, who comes twice a
month to levy contributions of bread and fuel for his convent, for
we hear her declare from the window that the master is not at home,
whenever the good brother rings; and at last, as this excuse gives out,
she ceases to respond to his ring at all.

Sometimes, during the summer weather, comes down our street a certain
tremulous old troubadour with an aged cithern, on which he strums
feebly with bones which remain to him from former fingers, and in a thin
quivering voice pipes worn-out ditties of youth and love. Sadder music
I have never heard, but though it has at times drawn from me the sigh of
sensibility without referring sympathy to my pocket, I always hear the
compassionate soldo of Giovanna clink reproof to me upon the pavement.
Perhaps that slender note touches something finer than habitual charity
in her middle-aged bosom, for these were songs she says that they used
to sing when she was a girl, and Venice was gay and glad, and different
from now--_veramente, tutt’ altro, signor!_

It is through Giovanna’s charitable disposition that we make the
acquaintance of two weird sisters, who live not far from us in Calle
Falier, and whom we know to this day merely as the Creatures--_creatura_
being in the vocabulary of Venetian pity the term for a fellow-being
somewhat more pitiable than a _poveretta_. Our Creatures are both well
stricken in years, and one of them has some incurable disorder which
frequently confines her to the wretched cellar in which they live with
the invalid’s husband,--a mild, pleasant-faced man, a tailor by trade,
and of batlike habits, who hovers about their dusky doorway in the
summer twilight. These people have but one room, and a little nook of
kitchen at the side; and not only does the sun never find his way into
their habitation, but even the daylight cannot penetrate it. They pay
about four florins a month for the place, and I hope their landlord is
as happy as his tenants. For though one is sick, and all are wretchedly
poor, they are far from being discontented. They are opulent in the
possession of a small dog, which they have raised from the cradle, as it
were, and adopted into the family. They are never tired of playing
with their dog,--the poor old children,--and every slight display of
intelligence on his part delights them. They think it fine in him to
follow us as we go by, but pretend to beat him; and then they excuse
him, and call him ill names, and catch him up, and hug him and kiss him.
He feeds upon their slender means and the pickings that G. carefully
carries him from our kitchen, and gives to him on our doorstep in spite
of us, while she gossips with his mistresses, who chorus our appearance
at such times with “_I miei rispetti, signori!_” We often see them in
the street, and at a distance from home, carrying mysterious bundles of
clothes; and at last we learn their vocation, which is one not known
out of Italian cities, I think. There the state is Uncle to the
hard-pressed, and instead of many pawnbrokers’ shops there is one large
municipal spout, which is called the Monte di Pietà, where the needy
pawn their goods. The system is centuries old in Italy, but there are
people who to this day cannot summon courage to repair in person to the
Mount of Pity, and, to meet their wants, there has grown up a class of
frowzy old women who transact the business for them, and receive a small
percentage for their trouble. Our poor old Creatures were of this class,
and as there were many persons in impoverished, decaying Venice who had
need of the succor they procured, they made out to earn a living when
both were well, and to eke out existence by charity when one was ill.
They were harmless neighbors, and I believe they regretted our removal,
when this took place, for they used to sit down under an arcade
opposite our new house, and spend the duller intervals of trade in the
contemplation of our windows.

The alarming spirit of nepotism which Giovanna developed at a later
day was, I fear, a growth from the encouragement we gave her charitable
disposition. But for several months it was merely from the fact of a boy
who came and whistled at the door until Giovanna opened it and reproved
him in the name of all the saints and powers of darkness, that we knew
her to be a mother; and we merely had her word for the existence of
a husband, who dealt in poultry. Without seeing Giovanna’s husband, I
nevertheless knew him to be a man of downy exterior, wearing a canvas
apron, thickly crusted with the gore of fowls, who sat at the door of
his shop and plucked chickens forever, as with the tireless hand of
Fate. I divined that he lived in an atmosphere of scalded pullet;
that three earthen cups of clotted chickens’ blood, placed upon his
window-shelf, formed his idea of an attractive display, and that he
shadowed forth his conceptions of the beautiful in symmetrical rows of
plucked chickens, presenting to the public eye rear views embellished
with a single feather erect in the tail of each bird; that he must be,
through the ethics of competition, the sworn foe of those illogical
peasants who bring dead poultry to town in cages, like singing birds,
and equally the friend of those restaurateurs who furnish you a meal of
victuals and a feather-bed in the same _mezzo-polio arrosto_. He turned
out on actual appearance to be all I had prefigured him, with the
additional merit of having a large red nose, a sidelong, fugitive gait,
and a hangdog countenance. He furnished us poultry at rates slightly
advanced, I think.

As for the boy, he turned up after a while as a constant guest, and
took possession of the kitchen. He came near banishment at one time for
catching a large number of sea-crabs in the canal, and confining them in
a basket in the kitchen, which they left at the dead hour of night, to
wander all over our house,--making a mysterious and alarming sound of
snapping, like an army of death-watches, and eluding the cunningest
efforts at capture. On another occasion, he fell into the canal before
our house, and terrified us by going under twice before the arrival of
the old gondolier, who called out to him “_Petta! petta!_” (Wait!
wait!) as he placidly pushed his boat to the spot. Developing other
disagreeable traits, Beppi was finally driven into exile, from which he
nevertheless furtively returned on holidays.

The family of Giovanna thus gradually encroaching upon us, we came
also to know her mother,--a dread and loathly old lady, whom we would
willingly have seen burned at the stake for a witch. She was commonly
encountered at nightfall in our street, where she lay in wait, as it
were, to prey upon the fragrance of dinner drifting from the kitchen
windows of our neighbor, the Duchess of Parma. Here was heard the voice
of cooks and of scullions, and the ecstasies of helpless voracity in
which we sometimes beheld this old lady were fearful to witness. Nor did
we find her more comfortable in our own kitchen, where we often saw
her. The place itself is weird and terrible--low ceiled, with the stone
hearth built far out into the room, and the melodramatic implements of
Venetian cookery dangling tragically from the wall. Here is no every-day
cheerfulness of cooking-range, but grotesque andirons wading into the
bristling embers, and a long crane with villanous pots gibbeted upon it.
When Giovanna’s mother, then (of the Italian hags, haggard), rises to
do us reverence from the darkest corner of this kitchen, and croaks her
good wishes for our long life, continued health, and endless happiness,
it has the effect upon our spirits of the darkest malediction.

Not more pleasing, though altogether lighter and cheerfuler, was
Giovanna’s sister-in-law, whom we knew only as the Cognata. Making her
appearance first upon the occasion of Giovanna’s sickness, she slowly
but surely established herself as an habitual presence, and threatened
at one time, as we fancied, to become our paid servant. But a happy
calamity which one night carried off a carpet and the window curtains
of an unoccupied room, cast an evil suspicion upon the Cognata, and she
never appeared after the discovery of the theft. We suspected her of
having invented some dishes of which we were very fond, and we hated
her for oppressing us with a sense of many surreptitious favors.
Objectively, she was a slim, hoopless little woman, with a tendency to
be always at the street-door when we opened it. She had a narrow, narrow
face, with eyes of terrible slyness, an applausive smile, and a demeanor
of slavish patronage. Our kitchen, after her addition to the household,
became the banqueting-hall of Giovanna’s family, who dined there every
day upon dishes of fish and garlic, that gave the house the general
savor of a low cook-shop.

As for Giovanna herself, she had the natural tendency of excellent
people to place others in subjection. Our servitude at first was
not hard, and consisted chiefly in the stimulation of appetite to
extraordinary efforts when G. had attempted to please us with some
novelty in cooking. She held us to a strict account in this respect; but
indeed our applause was for the most part willing enough. Her culinary
execution, first revealing itself in a noble rendering of our ideas of
roast potatoes,--a delicacy foreign to the Venetian kitchen,--culminated
at last in the same style of _polpetti_ [Footnote: I confess a
tenderness for this dish, which is a delicater kind of hash skillfully
flavored and baked in rolls of a mellow complexion and fascinating
appearance.] which furnished forth the table of our neighbor, the
Duchess, and was a perpetual triumph with us.

But G.’s spirit was not wholly that of the serving-woman. We noted in
her the liveliness of wit seldom absent from the Italian poor. She was a
great babbler, and talked willingly to herself, and to inanimate things,
when there was no other chance for talk. She was profuse in maledictions
of bad weather, which she held up to scorn as that dog of a weather. The
crookedness of the fuel transported her, and she upbraided the fagots as
springing from races of ugly old curs. (The vocabulary of Venetian
abuse is inexhaustible, and the Venetians invent and combine terms of
opprobrium with endless facility, but all abuse begins and ends with the
attribution of doggishness.) The conscription was held in the campo near
us, and G. declared the place to have become unendurable--“_proprio un
campo di sospiri!_” (Really a field of sighs.) “_Staga comodo!_” she
said to a guest of ours who would have moved his chair to let her pass
between him and the wall. “Don’t move; the way to Paradise is not wider
than this.” We sometimes lamented that Giovanna, who did not sleep in
the house, should come to us so late in the morning, but we could not
deal harshly with her on that account, met, as we always were, with
plentiful and admirable excuses. Who were we, indeed, to place our
wishes in the balance against the welfare of the sick neighbor with whom
Giovanna passed so many nights of vigil? Should we reproach her with
tardiness when she had not closed the eye all night for a headache
properly of the devil? If she came late in the morning, she stayed late
at night; and it sometimes happened that when the Paron and Parona,
supposing her gone, made a stealthy expedition to the kitchen for cold
chicken, they found her there at midnight in the fell company of the
Cognata, bibbing the wine of the country and holding a mild Italian
revel with that vinegar and the stony bread of Venice.

I have said G. was the flower of serving-women; and so at first
she seemed, and it was long till we doubted her perfection. We knew
ourselves to be very young, and weak, and unworthy. The Parona had the
rare gift of learning to speak less and less Italian every day, and fell
inevitably into subjection. The Paron in a domestic point of view was
naturally nothing. It had been strange indeed if Giovanna, beholding the
great contrast we presented to herself in many respects, had forborne to
abuse her advantage over us. But we trusted her implicitly, and I hardly
know how or when it was that we began to waver in our confidence. It is
certain that with the lapse of time we came gradually to have breakfast
at twelve o’clock, instead of nine, as we had originally appointed it,
and that G. grew to consume the greater part of the day in making our
small purchases, and to give us our belated dinners at seven o’clock.
We protested, and temporary reforms ensued, only to be succeeded by more
hopeless lapses; but it was not till all entreaties and threats failed
that we began to think seriously it would be well to have done with
Giovanna, as an unprofitable servant. I give the result, not all the
nice causes from which it came. But the question was, How to get rid of
a poor woman and a civil, and the mother of a family dependent in great
part upon her labor? We solemnly resolve a hundred times to dismiss
G., and we shrink a hundred times from inflicting the blow. At last,
somewhat in the spirit of Charles Lamb’s Chinaman who invented roast
pig, and discovered that the sole method of roasting it was to burn
down a house in order to consume the adjacent pig-sty, and thus cook
the roaster in the flames,--we hit upon an artifice by which we could
dispense with Giovanna, and keep an easy conscience. We had long ceased
to dine at home, in despair; and now we resolved to take another
house, in which there were other servants. But even then, it was a sore
struggle to part with the flower of serving-women, who was set over the
vacated house to put it in order after our flitting, and with whom
the imprudent Paron settled the last account in the familiar little
dining-room, surrounded by the depressing influences of the empty
chambers. The place was peopled after all, though we had left it, and
I think the tenants who come after us will be haunted by our spectres,
crowding them on the pleasant little balcony, and sitting down with
them at table. G. stood there, the genius of the place, and wept six
regretful tears, each one of which drew a florin from the purse of the
Paron. She had hoped to remain with us always while we lived in Venice;
but now that she could no longer look to us for support, the Lord must
take care of her. The gush of grief was transient: it relieved her,
and she came out sunnily a moment after. The Paron went his way more
sorrowfully, taking leave at last with the fine burst of Christian
philosophy: “We are none of us masters of ourselves in this world, and
cannot do what we wish. _Ma! Come si fa? Ci vuol pazienza!_” Yet he was
undeniably lightened in heart. He had cut adrift from old moorings, and
had crossed the Grand Canal. G. did not follow him, nor any of the
long line of pensioners who used to come on certain feast-days to levy
tribute of eggs at the old house. (The postman was among these, on
Christmas and New Year’s, and as he received eggs at every house, it was
a problem with us, unsolved to this hour, how he carried them all,
and what he did with them.) Not the least among the Paron’s causes for
self-gratulation was the non-appearance at his new abode of two
local newspapers, for which in an evil hour he subscribed, which were
delivered with unsparing regularity, and which, being never read, formed
the keenest reproach of his imprudent outlay and his idle neglect of
their contents.



The history of Venice reads like a romance; the place seems a fantastic
vision at the best, from which the world must at last awake some
morning, and find that after all it has only been dreaming, and that
there never was any such city. There our race seems to be in earnest in
nothing. People sometimes work, but as if without any aim; they suffer,
and you fancy them playing at wretchedness. The Church of St. Mark,
standing so solidly, with a thousand years under the feet of its
innumerable pillars, is not in the least gray with time--no grayer than
a Greek lyric.

    “All has suffered a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange,”

in this fantastic city. The prose of earth has risen poetry from its
baptism in the sea.

And if, living constantly in Venice, you sometimes for a little while
forget how marvelous she is, at any moment you may be startled into
vivid remembrance. The cunning city beguiles you street by street, and
step by step, into some old court, where a flight of marble stairs leads
high up to the pillared gallery of an empty palace, with a climbing vine
green and purple on its old decay, and one or two gaunt trees stretching
their heads to look into the lofty windows,--blind long ago to their
leafy tenderness,--while at their feet is some sumptuously carven well,
with the beauty of the sculptor’s soul wrought forever into the stone.
Or Venice lures you in a gondola into one of her remote canals, where
you glide through an avenue as secret and as still as if sea-deep under
our work-day world; where the grim heads carven over the water-gates
of the palaces stare at you in austere surprise, where the innumerable
balconies are full of the Absences of gay cavaliers and gentle dames,
gossiping and making love to one another, from their airy perches. Or if
the city’s mood is one of bolder charm, she fascinates you in the very
places where you think her power is the weakest, and as if impatient of
your forgetfulness, dares a wilder beauty, and enthralls with a yet
more unearthly and incredible enchantment. It is in the Piazza, and the
Austrian band is playing, and the promenaders pace solemnly up and down
to the music, and the gentle Italian loafers at Florian’s brood vacantly
over their little cups of coffee, and nothing can be more stupid; when
suddenly every thing is changed, and a memorable tournament flashes up
in many-glittering action upon the scene, and there upon the gallery of
the church, before the horses of bronze, sit the Senators, bright-robed,
and in the midst the bonneted Doge with his guest Petrarch at his side.
Or the old Carnival, which had six months of every year to riot in,
comes back and throngs the place with motley company,--dominoes,
harlequins, pantaloni, illustrissimi and illustrissime, and perhaps even
the Doge himself, who has the right of incognito when he wears a little
mask of wax at his button-hole. Or may be the grander day revisits
Venice when Doria has sent word from his fleet of Genoese at Chioggia
that he will listen to the Senate when he has bridled the horses of
Saint Mark,--and the whole Republic of rich and poor crowds the square,
demanding the release of Pisani, who comes forth from his prison to
create victory from the dust of the crumbling commonwealth.

But whatever surprise of memorable or beautiful Venice may prepare for
your forgetfulness, be sure it will be complete and resistless. Nay,
what potenter magic needs my Venice to revivify her past whenever she
will, than the serpent cunning of her Grand Canal? Launched upon this
great S have I not seen hardened travelers grow sentimental, and has not
this prodigious sybillant, in my hearing, inspired white-haired Puritan
ministers of the gospel to attempt to quote out of the guide-book “that
line from Byron”? Upon my word, I have sat beside wandering editors in
their gondolas, and witnessed the expulsion of the newspaper from
their nature, while, lulled by the fascination of the place, they were
powerless to take their own journals from their pockets, and instead of
politics talked some bewildered nonsense about coming back with their
families next summer. For myself, I must count as half-lost the year
spent in Venice before I took a house upon the Grand Canal. There
alone can existence have the perfect local flavor. But by what witchery
touched one’s being suffers the common sea-change, till life at last
seems to ebb and flow with the tide in that wonder-avenue of palaces, it
would be idle to attempt to tell. I can only take you to our dear little
balcony at Casa Falier, and comment not very coherently on the scene
upon the water under us.

And I am sure (since it is either in the spring or the fall) you will
not be surprised to see, the first thing, a boat-load of those English,
who go by from the station to their hotels, every day, in well-freighted
gondolas. These parties of traveling Englishry are all singularly alike,
from the “Pa’ty” traveling alone with his opera-glass and satchel, to
the party which fills a gondola with well-cushioned English middle age,
ruddy English youth, and substantial English baggage. We have learnt
to know them all very well: the father and the mother sit upon the back
seat, and their comely girls at the sides and front. These girls all
have the honest cabbage-roses of English health upon their cheeks; they
all wear little rowdy English hats, and invariable waterfalls of hair
tumble upon their broad English backs. They are coming from Switzerland
and Germany, and they are going south to Rome and to Naples, and they
always pause at Venice a few days. To-morrow we shall see them in the
Piazza, and at Florian’s, and St. Mark’s, and the Ducal Palace; and the
young ladies will cross the Bridge of Sighs, and will sentimentally feed
the vagabond pigeons of St. Mark which loaf about the Piazza and defile
the sculptures. But now our travelers are themselves very hungry, and
are more anxious than Americans can understand about the table-d’hôte of
their hotel. It is perfectly certain that if they fall into talk there
with any of our nation, the respectable English father will remark that
this war in America is a very sad war, and will ask to know when it will
all end. The truth is, Americans do not like these people, and I believe
there is no love lost on the other side. But, in many things, they
are travelers to be honored, if not liked: they voyage through all
countries, and without awaking fervent affection in any land through
which they pass; but their sterling honesty and truth have made the
English tongue a draft upon the unlimited confidence of the continental
peoples, and French, Germans, and Italians trust and respect private
English faith as cordially as they hate public English perfidy.

They come to Venice chiefly in the autumn, and October is the month of
the Sunsets and the English. The former are best seen from the Public
Gardens, whence one looks westward, and beholds them glorious behind
the domes and towers of San Giorgio Maggiore and the church of the
Redentore. Sometimes, when the sky is clear, your sunset on the lagoon
is a fine thing; for then the sun goes down into the water with a broad
trail of bloody red behind him, as if, wounded far out at sea, he had
dragged himself landward across the crimsoning expanses, and fallen and
died as he reached the land. But we (upon whom the idleness of Venice
grows daily, and from whom the Gardens, therefore, grow farther and
farther) are commonly content to take our bit of sunset as we get
it from our balcony, through the avenue opened by the narrow canal
opposite. We like the earlier afternoon to have been a little rainy,
when we have our sunset splendid as the fury of a passionate beauty--all
tears and fire. There is a pretty but impertinent little palace on the
corner which is formed by this canal as it enters the Canalazzo, and
from the palace, high over the smaller channel, hangs an airy balcony.
When the sunset sky, under and over the balcony, is of that pathetic and
angry red which I have tried to figure, we think ourselves rich in the
neighborhood of that part of the “Palace of Art,” whereon

    “The light aerial gallery, golden railed,
    Burnt like a fringe of fire.”

And so, after all, we do not think we have lost any greater thing in
not seeing the sunset from the Gardens, where half a dozen artists
are always painting it, or from the quay of the Zattere, where it is
splendid over and under the island church of San Giorgio in Alga.

It is only the English and the other tourist strangers who go by upon
the Grand Canal during the day. But in the hours just before the summer
twilight the gondolas of the citizens appear, and then you may see
whatever is left of Venetian gayety and looking down upon the groups
in the open gondolas may witness something of the home-life of the
Italians, who live out-of-doors.

The groups do not vary a great deal one from another: inevitably the
pale-faced papa, the fat mamma, the over-dressed handsome young girls.
We learned to look for certain gondolas, and grew to feel a fond
interest in a very mild young man who took the air in company and
contrast with a ferocious bull-dog--boule-dogue he called him, I
suppose. He was always smoking languidly, that mild young man, and I
fancied I could read in his countenance a gentle, gentle antagonism
to life--the proportionate Byronic misanthropy, which might arise from
sugar and water taken instead of gin. But we really knew nothing about
him, and our conjecture was conjecture. Officers went by in their
brilliant uniforms, and gave the scene an alien splendor. Among these we
enjoyed best the spectacle of an old major, or perhaps general, in
whom the arrogance of youth had stiffened into a chill hauteur, and who
frowned above his gray overwhelming moustache upon the passers, like
a citadel grim with battle and age. We used to fancy, with a certain
luxurious sense of our own safety, that one broadside from those
fortressed eyes could blow from the water the slight pleasure-boats in
which the young Venetian idlers were innocently disporting. But again
this was merely conjecture. The general’s glance may have had no such
power. Indeed, the furniture of our apartment sustained no damage from
it, even when concentrated through an opera-glass, by which means the
brave officer at times perused our humble lodging from the balcony of
his own over against us. He may have been no more dangerous in his way
than two aged sisters (whom we saw every evening) were in theirs. They
represented Beauty in its most implacable and persevering form, and
perhaps they had one day been belles and could not forget it. They were
very old indeed, but their dresses were new and their paint fresh, and
as they glided by in the good-natured twilight, one had no heart to
smile at them. We gave our smiles, and now and then our soldi, to the
swarthy beggar, who, being short of legs, rowed up and down the canal
in a boat, and overhauled Charity in the gondolas. He was a singular
compromise, in his vocation and his equipment, between the mendicant
and corsair: I fear he would not have hesitated to assume the
pirate altogether in lonelier waters; and had I been a heavily laden
oyster-boat returning by night through some remote and dark canal, I
would have steered clear of that truculent-looking craft, of which the
crew must have fought with a desperation proportioned to the lack of
legs and the difficulty of running away, in case of defeat.

About nightfall came the market boats on their way to the Rialto market,
bringing heaped fruits and vegetables from the main-land; and far into
the night the soft dip of the oar, and the gurgling progress of the
boats was company and gentlest lullaby. By which time, if we looked out
again, we found the moon risen, and the ghost of dead Venice shadowily
happy in haunting the lonesome palaces, and the sea, which had so loved
Venice, kissing and caressing the tide-worn marble steps where her feet
seemed to rest.

At night sometimes we saw from our balcony one of those _freschi_, which
once formed the chief splendor of festive occasions in Venice, and are
peculiar to the city, where alone their fine effects are possible.
The fresco is a procession of boats with music and lights. Two immense
barges, illumined with hundreds of paper lanterns, carry the military
bands; the boats of the civil and military dignitaries follow, and
then the gondolas of such citizens as choose to take part in the
display,--though since 1859 no Italian, unless a government official,
has been seen in the procession. No gondola has less than two lanterns,
and many have eight or ten, shedding mellow lights of blue, and red,
and purple, over uniforms and silken robes. The soldiers of the bands
breathe from their instruments music the most perfect and exquisite
of its kind in the world; and as the procession takes the width of the
Grand Canal in its magnificent course, soft crimson flushes play upon
the old, weather-darkened palaces, and die tenderly away, giving to
light and then to shadow the opulent sculptures of pillar, and arch, and
spandrel, and weirdly illuminating the grim and bearded visages of stone
that peer down from doorway and window. It is a sight more gracious and
fairy than ever poet dreamed; and I feel that the lights and the music
have only got into my description by name, and that you would not know
them when you saw and heard them, from any thing I say. In other days,
people tell you, the fresco was much more impressive than now. At
intervals, rockets used to be sent up, and the Bengal lights, burned
during the progress of the boats, threw the gondoliers’ spectral
shadows, giant-huge, on the palace-walls. But, for my part, I do not
care to have the fresco other than I know it: indeed, for my own selfish
pleasure, I should be sorry to have Venice in any way less fallen and
forlorn than she is.

Without doubt the most picturesque craft ever seen on the Grand Canal
are the great boats of the river Po, which, crossing the lagoons from
Chioggia, come up to the city with the swelling sea. They are built with
a pointed stern and bow rising with the sweep of a short curve from the
water high above the cabin roof, which is always covered with a straw
matting. Black is not the color of the gondolas alone, but of all boats
in Venetia; and these of the Po are like immense funeral barges, and any
one of them might be sent to take King Arthur and bear him to Avilon,
whither I think most of them are bound. A path runs along either
gunwale, on which the men pace as they pole the boat up the canal,--her
great sail folded and lying with the prostrate mast upon the deck. The
rudder is a prodigious affair, and the man at the helm is commonly kind
enough to wear a red cap with a blue tassel, and to smoke. The other
persons on board are no less obliging and picturesque, from the
dark-eyed young mother who sits with her child in her arms at the
cabin-door, to the bronze boy who figures in play at her feet with a
small yellow dog of the race already noticed in charge of the fuel-boats
from Dalmatia. The father of the family, whom we take to be the
commander of the vessel, occupies himself gracefully in sitting down and
gazing at the babe and its mother. It is an old habit of mine, formed in
childhood from looking at rafts upon the Ohio, to attribute, with a kind
of heart-ache, supreme earthly happiness to the navigators of lazy
river craft; and as we glance down upon these people from our balcony,
I choose to think them immensely contented, and try, in a feeble, tacit
way, to make friends with so much bliss. But I am always repelled
in these advances by the small yellow dog, who is rendered extremely
irascible by my contemplation of the boat under his care, and who,
ruffling his hair as a hen ruffles her feathers, never fails to bark
furious resentment of my longing.

Far different from the picture presented by this boat’s progress--the
peacefulness of which even the bad temper of the small yellow dog could
not mar--was another scene which we witnessed upon the Grand Canal, when
one morning we were roused from our breakfast by a wild and lamentable
outcry. Two large boats, attempting to enter the small canal opposite
at the same time, had struck together with a violence that shook the
boatmen to their inmost souls. One barge was laden with lime, and
belonged to a plasterer of the city; the other was full of fuel, and
commanded by a virulent rustic. These rival captains advanced toward the
bows of their boats, with murderous looks,

    “Con la test’alta e con rabbiosa fame,
    Sì che parea che l’aer ne temesse,”

and there stamped furiously, and beat the wind with hands of deathful
challenge, while I looked on with that noble interest which the
enlightened mind always feels in people about to punch each other’s

But the storm burst in words.

“Figure of a pig!” shrieked the Venetian, “you have ruined my boat

“Thou liest, son of an ugly old dog!” returned the countryman, “and it
was my right to enter the canal first.”

They then, after this exchange of insult, abandoned the main subject of
dispute, and took up the quarrel laterally and in detail. Reciprocally
questioning the reputation of all their female relatives to the third
and fourth cousins, they defied each other as the offspring of assassins
and prostitutes. As the peace-making tide gradually drifted their boats
asunder, their anger rose, and they danced back and forth and hurled
opprobrium with a foamy volubility that quite left my powers of
comprehension behind. At last the townsman, executing a _pas seul_
of uncommon violence, stooped and picked up a bit of lime, while the
countryman, taking shelter at the stern of his boat, there attended
the shot. To my infinite disappointment it was not fired. The
Venetian seemed to have touched the climax of his passion in the mere
demonstration of hostility, and gently gathering up his oar gave the
countryman the right of way. The courage of the latter rose as the
danger passed, and as far as he could be heard, he continued to exult
in the wildest excesses of insult: “Ah-heigh! brutal executioner!
Ah, hideous headsman!” _Da capo._ I now know that these people never
intended to do more than quarrel, and no doubt they parted as well
pleased as if they had actually carried broken heads from the encounter.
But at the time I felt affronted and trifled with by the result, for my
disappointments arising out of the dramatic manner of the Italians had
not yet been frequent enough to teach me to expect nothing from it.

There was some compensation for me--coming, like all compensation, a
long while after the loss--in the spectacle of a funeral procession
on the Grand Canal, which had a singular and imposing solemnity only
possible to the place. It was the funeral of an Austrian general, whose
coffin, mounted on a sable catafalco, was borne upon the middle boat of
three that moved abreast. The barges on either side bristled with the
bayonets of soldiery, but the dead man was alone in his boat, except for
one strange figure that stood at the head of the coffin, and rested its
glittering hand upon the black fall of the drapery. This was a man clad
cap-a-pie in a perfect suit of gleaming mail, with his visor down, and
his shoulders swept by the heavy raven plumes of his helm. As at times
he moved from side to side, and glanced upward at the old palaces, sad
in the yellow morning light, he put out of sight, for me, every thing
else upon the Canal, and seemed the ghost of some crusader come back to
Venice, in wonder if this city, lying dead under the hoofs of the Croat,
were indeed that same haughty Lady of the Sea who had once sent her
blind old Doge to beat down the pride of an empire and disdain its



One summer morning the mosquitoes played for me with sleep, and won. It
was half-past four, and as it had often been my humor to see Venice at
that hour, I got up and sallied forth for a stroll through the city.

This morning walk did not lay the foundation of a habit of early rising
in me, but I nevertheless advise people always to get up at half-past
four, if they wish to receive the most vivid impressions, and to take
the most absorbing interest in every thing in the world. It was with a
feeling absolutely novel that I looked about me that morning, and
there was a breezy freshness and clearness in my perceptions altogether
delightful, and I fraternized so cordially with Nature that I do not
think, if I had sat down immediately after to write out the experience,
I should have at all patronized her, as I am afraid scribbling people
have sometimes the custom to do. I know that my feeling of brotherhood
in the case of two sparrows, which obliged me by hopping down from a
garden wall at the end of Calle Falier and promenading on the pavement,
was quite humble and sincere; and that I resented the ill-nature of a

    “Whom love kept wakeful and the muse,”

and who at that hour was spitefully reviling the morn from a window
grating. As I went by the gate of the Canonico’s little garden,
the flowers saluted me with a breath of perfume,--I think the white
honey-suckle was first to offer me this politeness,--and the dumpy
little statues looked far more engaging than usual.

After passing the bridge, the first thing to do was to drink a cup of
coffee at the Caffè Ponte di Ferro, where the eyebrows of the waiter
expressed a mild surprise at my early presence. There was no one else
in the place but an old gentleman talking thoughtfully to himself on
the subject of two florins, while he poured his coffee into a glass of
water, before drinking it. As I lingered a moment over my cup, I was
reinforced by the appearance of a company of soldiers, marching to
parade in the Campo di Marte. Their officers went at their head,
laughing and chatting, and one of the lieutenants smoking a long pipe,
gave me a feeling of satisfaction only comparable to that which I
experienced shortly afterward in beholding a stoutly built small dog on
the Ponte di San Moisè. The creature was only a few inches high, and it
must have been through some mist of dreams yet hanging about me that
he impressed me as having something elephantine in his manner. When I
stooped down and patted him on the head, I felt colossal.

On my way to the Piazza, I stopped in the church of Saint Mary of the
Lily, where, in company with one other sinner, I found a relish in
the early sacristan’s deliberate manner of lighting the candles on the
altar. Saint Mary of the Lily has a façade in the taste of the declining
Renaissance. The interior is in perfect keeping, and all is hideous,
abominable, and abandoned. My fellow-sinner was kneeling, and repeating
his prayers. He now and then tapped himself absent-mindedly on the
breast and forehead, and gave a good deal of his attention to me as I
stood at the door, hat in hand. The hour and the place invested him with
so much interest, that I parted from him with emotion. My feelings were
next involved by an abrupt separation from a young English East-Indian,
whom I overheard asking the keeper of a caffè his way to the Campo di
Marte. He was a claret-colored young fellow, tall, and wearing folds
of white muslin around his hat. In another world I trust to know how he
liked the parade that morning.

I discovered that Piazza San Marco is every morning swept by troops
of ragged facchini, who gossip noisily and quarrelsomely together over
their work. Boot-blacks, also, were in attendance, and several followed
my progress through the square, in the vague hope that I would relent
and have my boots blacked. One peerless waiter stood alone amid the
desert elegance of Caffè Florian, which is never shut, day or night,
from year to year. At the Caffè of the Greeks, two individuals of the
Greek nation were drinking coffee.

I went upon the Molo, passing between the pillars of the Lion and the
Saint, and walked freely back and forth, taking in the glory of that
prospect of water and of vague islands breaking the silver of the
lagoons, like those scenes cunningly wrought in apparent relief on old
Venetian mirrors. I walked there freely, for though there were already
many gondoliers at the station, not one took me for a foreigner or
offered me a boat. At that hour, I was in myself so improbable, that if
they saw me at all, I must have appeared to them as a dream. My sense
of security was sweet, but it was false, for on going into the church
of St. Mark, the keener eye of the sacristan detected me. He instantly
offered to show me the Zeno Chapel; but I declined, preferring the
church, where I found the space before the high altar filled with
market-people come to hear the early mass. As I passed out of the
church, I witnessed the partial awaking of a Venetian gentleman who had
spent the night in a sitting posture, between the columns of the main
entrance. He looked puffy, scornful, and uncomfortable, and at
the moment of falling back to slumber, tried to smoke an unlighted
cigarette, which he held between his lips. I found none of the shops
open as I passed through the Merceria, and but for myself, and here and
there a laborer going to work, the busy thoroughfare seemed deserted. In
the mere wantonness of power, and the security of solitude, I indulged
myself in snapping several door-latches, which gave me a pleasure as
keen as that enjoyed in boyhood from passing a stick along the pickets
of a fence. I was in nowise abashed to be discovered in this amusement
by an old peasant-woman, bearing at either end of a yoke the usual
basket with bottles of milk packed in straw.

Entering Campo San Bartolomeo, I found trade already astir in that noisy
place; the voice of cheap bargains, which by noonday swells into an
intolerable uproar, was beginning to be heard. Having lived in Campo San
Bartolomeo, I recognized several familiar faces there, and particularly
noted among them that of a certain fruit-vender, who frequently swindled
me in my small dealings with him. He now sat before his stand, and for a
man of a fat and greasy presence, looked very fresh and brisk, and as if
he had passed a pleasant night.

On the other side of the Rialto Bridge, the market was preparing for
the purchasers. Butchers were arranging their shops; fruit-stands, and
stands for the sale of crockery, and--as I must say for want of a better
word, if there is any--notions, were in a state of tasteful readiness.
The person on the steps of the bridge who had exposed his stock of cheap
clothing and coarse felt hats on the parapet, had so far completed his
preparations as to have leisure to be talking himself hot and hoarse
with the neighboring barber. He was in a perfectly good humor, and was
merely giving a dramatic flavor to some question of six soldi.

At the landings of the market-place squadrons of boats loaded with
vegetables were arriving and unloading. Peasants were building
cabbages into pyramids; collective squashes and cucumbers were taking a
picturesque shape; wreaths of garlic and garlands of onions graced the
scene. All the people were clamoring at the tops of their voices; and
in the midst of the tumult and confusion, resting on heaps of
cabbage-leaves and garbage, men lay on their bellies sweetly sleeping.
Numbers of eating-houses were sending forth a savory smell, and
everywhere were breakfasters with bowls of sguassetto. In one of the
shops, somewhat prouder than the rest, a heated brunette was turning
sections of eel on a gridiron, and hurriedly coqueting with the
purchasers. Singularly calm amid all this bustle was the countenance
of the statue called the Gobbo, as I looked at it in the centre of the
market-place. The Gobbo (who is not a hunchback, either) was patiently
supporting his burden, and looking with a quiet, thoughtful frown upon
the ground, as if pondering some dream of change that had come to him
since the statutes of the haughty Republic were read aloud to the people
from the stone tribune on his shoulders.

Indeed, it was a morning for thoughtful meditation; and as I sat at the
feet of the four granite kings shortly after, waiting for the gate of
the ducal palace to be opened, that I might see the girls drawing the
water, I studied the group of the Judgment of Solomon, on the corner of
the palace, and arrived at an entirely new interpretation of that Bible
story, which I have now wholly forgotten.

The gate remained closed too long for my patience, and I turned away
from a scene momently losing its interest. The brilliant little shops
opened like hollyhocks as I went home; the swelling tide of life filled
the streets, and brought Venice back to my day-time remembrance, robbing
her of that keen, delightful charm with which she greeted my early
morning sense.



Wishing to tell the story of our Mouse, because I think it illustrates
some amusing traits of character in a certain class of Italians, I
explain at once that he was not a mouse, but a man so called from his
wretched, trembling little manner, his fugitive expression, and peaked

He first appeared to us on the driver’s seat of that carriage in which
we posted so splendidly one spring-time from Padua to Ponte Lagoscuro.
But though he mounted to his place just outside the city gate, we did
not regard him much, nor, indeed, observe what a mouse he was, until
the driver stopped to water his horses near Battaglia, and the Mouse got
down to stretch his forlorn little legs. Then I got down too, and bade
him good-day, and told him it was a very hot day--for he was a mouse
apparently so plunged in wretchedness that I doubted if he knew what
kind of day it was.

When I had spoken, he began to praise (in the wary manner of the
Venetians when they find themselves in the company of a foreigner who
does not look like an Englishman) the Castle of the Obiza near by, which
is now the country-seat of the ex-Duke of Modena; and he presently said
something to imply that he thought me a German.

“But I am not a German,” said I.

“As many excuses,” said the Mouse sadly, but with evident relief; and
then began to talk more freely, and of the evil times.

“Are you going all the way with us to Florence?” I asked.

“No, signor, to Bologna; from there to Ancona.”

“Have you ever been in Venice? We are just coming from there.”

“Oh, yes.”

“It is a beautiful place. Do you like it?”

“Sufficiently. But one does not enjoy himself very well there.”

“But I thought Venice interesting.”

“Sufficiently, signor. _Ma!_” said the Mouse, shrugging his shoulders,
and putting on the air of being luxuriously fastidious in his choice of
cities, “the water is so bad in Venice.”

The Mouse is dressed in a heavy winter overcoat, and has no garment to
form a compromise with his shirt-sleeves, if he should wish to render
the weather more endurable by throwing off the surtout. In spite of his
momentary assumption of consequence, I suspect that his coat is in the
Monte di Pietà. It comes out directly that he is a ship-carpenter who
has worked in the Arsenal of Venice, and at the ship-yards in Trieste.

But there is no work any more. He went to Trieste lately to get a job on
the three frigates which the Sultan had ordered to be built there. _Ma!_
After all, the frigates are to be built in Marseilles instead. There is
nothing. And every thing is so dear. In Venetia you spend much and gain
little. Perhaps there is work at Ancona.

By this time the horses are watered; the Mouse regains his seat, and we
almost forget him, till he jumps from his place, just before we reach
the hotel in Rovigo, and disappears--down the first hole in the side of
a house, perhaps. He might have done much worse, and spent the night at
the hotel, as we did.

The next morning at four o’clock, when we start, he is on the box again,
nibbling bread and cheese, and glancing furtively back at us to say good
morning. He has little twinkling black eyes, just like a mouse, and a
sharp moustache, and sharp tuft on his chin--as like Victor Emanuel’s as
a mouse’s tuft can be.

The cold morning air seems to shrivel him, and he crouches into a little
gelid ball on the seat beside the driver, while we wind along the Po on
the smooth gray road; while the twilight lifts slowly from the distances
of field and vineyard; while the black boats of the Po, with their gaunt
white sails, show spectrally through the mists; while the trees and the
bushes break into innumerable voice, and the birds are glad of another
day in Italy; while the peasant drives his mellow-eyed, dun oxen
afield; while his wife comes in her scarlet bodice to the door, and
the children’s faces peer out from behind her skirts; while the air
freshens, the east flushes, and the great miracle is wrought anew.

Once again, before we reach the ferry of the Po, the Mouse leaps down
and disappears as mysteriously as at Rovigo. We see him no more till we
meet in the station on the other side of the river, where we hear him
bargaining long and earnestly with the ticket-seller for a third-class
passage to Bologna. He fails to get it, I think, at less than the usual
rate, for he retires from the contest more shrunken and forlorn than
ever, and walks up and down the station, startled at a word, shocked at
any sudden noise.

For curiosity, I ask how much he paid for crossing the river, mentioning
the fabulous sum it had cost us.

It appears that he paid sixteen soldi only. “What could they do when a
man was in misery? I had nothing else.”

Even while thus betraying his poverty, the Mouse did not beg, and we
began to respect his poverty. In a little while we pitied it, witnessing
the manner in which he sat down on the edge of a chair, with a smile of
meek desperation.

It is a more serious case when an artisan is out of work in the Old
World than one can understand in the New. There the struggle for bread
is so fierce and the competition so great; and, then, a man bred to one
trade cannot turn his hand to another as in America. Even the rudest and
least skilled labor has more to do it than are wanted. The Italians
are very good to the poor, but the tradesman out of work must become a
beggar before charity can help him.

We, who are poor enough to be wise, consult foolishly together
concerning the Mouse. It blesses him that gives, and him that
takes--this business of charity. And then, there is something
irresistibly relishing and splendid in the consciousness of being the
instrument of a special providence! Have I all my life admired those
beneficent characters in novels and comedies who rescue innocence,
succor distress, and go about pressing gold into the palm of poverty,
and telling it to take it and be happy; and now shall I reject an
occasion, made to my hand, for emulating them in real life?

“I think I will give the Mouse five francs,” I say.

“Yes, certainly.”

“But I will be prudent,” I continue. “I will not give him this money.
I will tell him it is a loan which he may pay me back again whenever he
can. In this way I shall relieve him now, and furnish him an incentive
to economy.”

I call to the Mouse, and he runs tremulously toward me.

“Have you friends in Ancona?”

“No, signor.”

“How much money have you left?”

He shows me three soldi. “Enough for a coffee.”

“And then?”

“God knows.”

So I give him the five francs, and explain my little scheme of making it
a loan, and not a gift; and then I give him my address.

He does not appear to understand the scheme of the loan; but he takes
the money, and is quite stunned by his good fortune. He thanks me
absently, and goes and shows the piece to the guards, with a smile that
illumines and transfigures his whole person. At Bologna, he has come
to his senses; he loads me with blessings, he is ready to weep; he
reverences me, he wishes me a good voyage, endless prosperity, and
innumerable days; and takes the train for Ancona.

“Ah, ah!” I congratulate myself,--“is it not a fine thing to be the
instrument of a special providence?”

It is pleasant to think of the Mouse during all that journey, and if we
are never so tired, it rests us to say, “I wonder where the Mouse is
by this time?” When we get home, and coldly count up our expenses, we
rejoice in the five francs lent to the Mouse. “And I know he will pay it
back if ever he can,” I say. “That was a Mouse of integrity.”

Two weeks later comes a comely young woman, with a young child--a child
strong on its legs, a child which tries to open every thing in the room,
which wants to pull the cloth off the table, to throw itself out of
the open window--a child of which I have never seen the peer for
restlessness and curiosity. This young woman has been directed to call
on me as a person likely to pay her way to Ferrara. “But who sent you?
But, in fine, why should I pay your way to Ferrara? I have never seen
you before.”

“My husband, whom you benefited on his way to Ancona, sent me. Here is
his letter and the card you gave him.”

I call out to my fellow-victim,--“My dear, here is news of the Mouse!”

“Don’t _tell_ me he’s sent you that money already!”

“Not at all. He has sent me his wife and child, that I may forward them
to him at Ferrara, out of my goodness, and the boundless prosperity
which has followed his good wishes--I, who am a great signor in his
eyes, and an insatiable giver of five-franc pieces--the instrument of a
perpetual special providence. The Mouse has found work at Ferrara, and
his wife comes here from Trieste. As for the rest, I am to send her to
him, as I said.”

“You are deceived,” I say solemnly to the Mouse’s wife. “I am not a rich
man. I lent your husband five francs because he had nothing. I am sorry
but I cannot spare twenty florins to send you to Ferrara. If _one_ will
help you?”

“Thanks the same,” said the young woman, who was well dressed enough;
and blessed me, and gathered up her child, and went her way.

But her blessing did not lighten my heart, depressed and troubled by
so strange an end to my little scheme of a beneficent loan. After all,
perhaps the Mouse may have been as keenly disappointed as myself. With
the ineradicable idea of the Italians, that persons who speak English
are wealthy by nature, and _tutti originali_, it was not such an absurd
conception of the case to suppose that if I had lent him five francs
once, I should like to do it continually. Perhaps he may yet pay back
the loan with usury. But I doubt it. In the mean time, I am far from
blaming the Mouse. I merely feel that there is a misunderstanding, which
I can pardon if he can.



One day in the gallery of the Venetian Academy a family party of the
English, whom we had often seen from our balcony in their gondolas, were
kind enough to pause before Titian’s John the Baptist. It was attention
that the picture could scarcely demand in strict justice, for it hangs
at the end of a suite of smaller rooms through which visitors usually
return from the great halls, spent with looking at much larger
paintings. As these people stood gazing at the sublime figure of the
Baptist,--one of the most impressive, if not the most religious,
that the master has painted,--and the wild and singular beauty of
the landscape made itself felt through the infinite depths of their
respectability, the father of the family and the head of the group
uttered approval of the painter’s conception: “Quite my idea of the
party’s character,” he said; and then silently and awfully led his
domestic train away.

I am so far from deriding the criticism of this honest gentleman that
I would wish to have equal sincerity and boldness in saying what I
thought--if I really thought any thing at all--concerning the art which
I spent so great a share of my time at Venice in looking at. But I fear
I should fall short of the terseness as well as the candor I applaud,
and should presently find myself tediously rehearsing criticisms which
I neither respect for their honesty, nor regard for their justice. It is
the sad fortune of him who desires to arrive at full perception of the
true and beautiful in art, to find that critics have no agreement except
upon a few loose general principles; and that among the artists, to whom
he turns in his despair, no two think alike concerning the same master,
while his own little learning has made him distrust his natural likings
and mislikings. Ruskin is undoubtedly the best guide you can have
in your study of the Venetian painters; and after reading him, and
suffering confusion and ignominy from his theories and egotisms, the
exercises by which you are chastised into admission that he has taught
you any thing cannot fail to end in a humility very favorable to your
future as a Christian. But even in this subdued state you must distrust
the methods by which he pretends to relate the aesthetic truths you
perceive to certain civil and religious conditions: you scarcely
understand how Tintoretto, who genteelly disdains (on one page) to paint
well any person baser than a saint or senator, and with whom “exactly
in proportion to the dignity of the character is the beauty of the
painting,”--comes (on the next page) to paint a very “weak, mean, and
painful” figure of Christ; and knowing a little the loose lives of the
great Venetian painters, you must reject, with several other humorous
postulates, the idea that good colorists are better men than bad
colorists. Without any guide, I think, these painters may be studied and
understood, up to a certain point, by one who lives in the atmosphere
of their art at Venice, and who, insensibly breathing in its influence,
acquires a feeling for it which all the critics in the world could not
impart where the works themselves are not to be seen. I am sure that no
one strange to the profession of artist ever received a just notion of
any picture by reading the most accurate and faithful description of
it: stated dimensions fail to convey ideas of size; adjectives are not
adequate to the ideas of movement; and the names of the colors, however
artfully and vividly introduced and repeated, cannot tell the reader
of a painter’s coloring. I should be glad to hear what Titian’s
“Assumption” is like from some one who knew it by descriptions. Can any
one who has seen it tell its likeness, or forget it? Can any cunning
critic describe intelligibly the difference between the styles of
Titian, of Tintoretto, and of Paolo Veronese,--that difference which no
one with the slightest feeling for art can fail to discern after looking
thrice at their works? It results from all this that I must believe
special criticisms on art to have their small use only in the presence
of the works they discuss. This is my sincere belief, and I could not,
in any honesty, lumber my pages with descriptions or speculations which
would be idle to most readers, even if I were a far wiser judge of art
than I affect to be. As it is, doubting if I be gifted in that way at
all, I think I may better devote myself to discussion of such things in
Venice as can be understood by comparison with things elsewhere, and so
rest happy in the thought that I have thrown no additional darkness on
any of the pictures half obscured now by the religious dimness of the
Venetian churches.

Doubt, analogous to that expressed, has already made me hesitate to
spend the reader’s patience upon many well-known wonders of Venice;
and, looking back over the preceding chapters, I find that some of the
principal edifices of the city have scarcely got into my book even by
name. It is possible that the reader, after all, loses nothing by this;
but I should regret it, if it seemed ingratitude to that expression of
the beautiful which beguiled many dull hours for me, and kept me company
in many lonesome ones. For kindnesses of this sort, indeed, I am under
obligations to edifices in every part of the city; and there is hardly
a bit of sculptured stone in the Ducal Palace to which I do not owe some
pleasant thought or harmless fancy. Yet I am shy of endeavoring in
my gratitude to transmute the substance of the Ducal Palace into some
substance that shall be sensible to the eyes that look on this print;
and I forgive myself the reluctance the more readily when I remember
how, just after reading Mr. Ruskin’s description of St. Mark’s Church,
I, who had seen it every day for three years, began to have dreadful
doubts of its existence.

To be sure, this was only for a moment, and I do not think all the
descriptive talent in the world could make me again doubt St. Mark’s,
which I remember with no less love than veneration. This church indeed
has a beauty which touches and wins all hearts, while it appeals
profoundly to the religious sentiment. It is as if there were a
sheltering friendliness in its low-hovering domes and arches, which
lures and caresses while it awes; as if here, where the meekest soul
feels welcome and protection, the spirit oppressed with the heaviest
load of sin might creep nearest to forgiveness, hiding the anguish of
its repentance in the temple’s dim cavernous recesses, faintly starred
with mosaic, and twilighted by twinkling altar-lamps. Though the temple
is enriched with incalculable value of stone and sculpture, I
cannot remember at any time to have been struck by its mere opulence
Preciousness of material has been sanctified to the highest uses, and
there is such unity and justness in the solemn splendor, that wonder is
scarcely appealed to. Even the priceless and rarely seen treasures of
the church--such as the famous golden altarpiece, whose costly blaze
of gems and gold was lighted in Constantinople six hundred years
ago--failed to impress me with their pecuniary worth, though I

    “Value the giddy pleasure of the eyes,”

and like to marvel at precious things. The jewels of other churches are
conspicuous and silly heaps of treasure; but St. Mark’s, where every
line of space shows delicate labor in rich material, subdues the jewels
to their place of subordinate adornment. So, too, the magnificence
of the Romish service seems less vainly ostentatious there. In other
churches the ceremonies may sometimes impress you with a sense of
their grandeur, and even spirituality, but they all need the effect of
twilight upon them. You want a foreground of kneeling figures, and faces
half visible through heavy bars of shadow; little lamps must tremble
before the shrines; and in the background must rise the high altar, all
ablaze with candles from vault to pavement, while a hidden choir pours
music from behind, and the organ shakes the heart with its heavy tones.
But with the daylight on its splendors even the grand function of the
_Te Deum_ fails to awe, and wearies by its length, except in St. Mark’s
alone, which is given grace to spiritualize what elsewhere would be
mere theatric pomp. [Footnote: The cardinal-patriarch officiates in the
Basilica San Marco with some ceremonies which I believe are peculiar to
the patriarchate of Venice, and which consist of an unusual number of
robings and disrobings, and putting on and off of shoes. All this
is performed with great gravity, and has, I suppose, some peculiar
spiritual significance. The shoes are brought by a priest to the foot
of the patriarchal throne, when a canon removes the profane, out-of-door
_chaussure_, and places the sacred shoes on the patriarch’s feet. A like
ceremony replaces the patriarch’s every-day gaiters, and the pious rite
ends.] The basilica, however, is not in every thing the edifice best
adapted to the Romish worship; for the incense, which is a main element
of the function, is gathered and held there in choking clouds under the
low wagon-roofs of the cross-naves.--Yet I do not know if I would
banish incense from the formula of worship even in St. Mark’s. There is
certainly a poetic if not a religious grace in the swinging censer and
its curling fumes; and I think the perfume, as it steals mitigated to
your nostrils, out of the open church door, is the reverendest smell in
the world.

The music in Venetian churches is not commonly very good: the best is
to be heard at St. Mark’s, though the director of the choir always
contrives to make so odious a slapping with his _bâton_ as nearly
to spoil your enjoyment. The great musical event of the year is the
performance (immediately after the _Festa del Redentore_) of the Soldini
Masses. These are offered for the repose of one Guiseppe Soldini of
Verona, who, dying possessed of about a million francs, bequeathed a
part (some six thousand francs) annually to the church of St. Mark,
on conditions named in his will. The terms are, that during three
successive days, every year, there shall be said for the peace of his
soul a certain number of masses,--all to be done in the richest and
costliest manner. In case of delinquency, the bequest passes to the
Philharmonic Society of Milan; but the priesthood of the basilica so
strictly regard the wishes of the deceased that they never say less
than four masses over and above the prescribed number. [Footnote: After
hearing these masses, curiosity led me to visit the _Casa di Ricovero_,
in order to look at Soldini’a will, and there I had the pleasure of
recognizing the constantly recurring fact, that beneficent humanity
is of all countries and religions. The Casa di Ricovero is an immense
edifice dedicated to the shelter and support of the decrepit and
helpless of either sex, who are collected there to the number of five
hundred. The more modern quarter was erected from a bequest by Soldini;
and eternal provision is also made by his will for ninety of the
inmates. The Secretary of the Casa went through all the wards and
infirmaries with me, and everywhere I saw cleanliness and comfort (and
such content as is possible to sickness and old age), without surprise;
for I had before seen the Civil Hospital of Venice, and knew something
of the perfection of Venetian charities.

At last we came to the wardrobe, where the clothes of the pensioners are
made and kept. Here we were attended by a little, slender, pallid young
nun, who exhibited the dresses with a simple pride altogether pathetic.
She was a woman still, poor thing, though a nun, and she could not help
loving new clothes. They called her Madre, who would never be it except
in name and motherly tenderness. When we had seen all, she stood a
moment before us, and as one of the coarse woolen lappets of her cape
had hidden it, she drew out a heavy crucifix of gold, and placed it in
sight, with a heavenly little ostentation, over her heart. Sweet and
beautiful vanity! An angel could have done it without harm, but she
blushed repentance, and glided away with downcast eyes Poor little

As there is so little in St. Mark’s of the paltry or revolting character
of modern Romanism, one would form too exalted an idea of the dignity of
Catholic worship if he judged it there. The truth is, the sincerity
and nobility of a spirit well-nigh unknown to the Romish faith of these
times, are the ruling influences in that temple: the past lays its spell
upon the present, transfiguring it, and the sublimity of the early faith
honors the superstition which has succeeded it. To see this superstition
in all its proper grossness and deformity you must go into some of the
Renaissance churches,--fit tabernacles for that droning and mumming
spirit which has deprived all young and generous men in Italy of
religion; which has made the priests a bitter jest and byword; which has
rendered the population ignorant, vicious, and hopeless; which gives its
friendship to tyranny and its hatred to freedom; which destroys the life
of the Church that it may sustain the power of the Pope. The idols of
this superstition are the foolish and hideous dolls which people bow to
in most of the Venetian temples, and of which the most abominable is in
the church of the Carmelites. It represents the Madonna with the Child,
elevated breast-high to the worshipers. She is crowned with tinsel and
garlanded with paper flowers; she has a blue ribbon about her tightly
corseted waist; and she wears an immense spreading hoop. On her painted,
silly face of wood, with its staring eyes shadowed by a wig, is figured
a pert smile; and people come constantly and kiss the cross that hangs
by a chain from her girdle, and utter their prayers to her; while the
column near which she sits is hung over with pictures celebrating the
miracles she has performed.

These votive pictures, indeed, are to be seen on most altars of the
Virgin, and are no less interesting as works of art than as expressions
of hopeless superstition. That Virgin who, in all her portraits, is
dressed in a churn-shaped gown and who holds a Child similarly habited,
is the Madonna most efficacious in cases of dreadful accident and
hopeless sickness, if we may trust the pictures which represent her
interference. You behold a carriage overturned and dragged along the
ground by frantic horses, and the fashionably dressed lady and gentleman
in the carriage about to be dashed into millions of pieces, when the
havoc is instantly arrested by this Madonna who breaks the clouds,
leaving them with jagged and shattered edges, like broken panes of
glass, and visibly holds back the fashionable lady and gentleman from
destruction. It is the fashionable lady and gentleman who have thus
recorded their obligation; and it is the mother, doubtless, of the
little boy miraculously preserved from death in his fall from the
second-floor balcony, who has gratefully caused the miracle to be
painted and hung at the Madonna’s shrine. Now and then you also find
offerings of corn and fruits before her altar, in acknowledgment of good
crops which the Madonna has made to grow; and again you find rows of
silver hearts, typical of the sinful hearts which her intercession has
caused to be purged. The greatest number of these, at any one shrine,
is to be seen in the church of San Nicolò dei Tolentini, where I should
think there were three hundred.

Whatever may be the popularity of the Madonna della Salute in pestilent
times, I do not take it to be very great when the health of the city is
good, if I may judge from the spareness of the worshipers in the church
of her name: it is true that on the annual holiday commemorative of
her interposition to save Venice from the plague, there is an immense
concourse of people there; but at other times I found the masses and
vespers slenderly attended, and I did not observe a great number of
votive offerings in the temple,--though the great silver lamp placed
there by the city, in memory of the Madonna’s goodness during the
visitation of the cholera in 1849, may be counted, perhaps, as
representative of much collective gratitude. It is a cold, superb
church, lording it over the noblest breadth of the Grand Canal; and I do
not know what it is saves it from being as hateful to the eye as other
temples of the Renaissance architecture. But it has certainly a fine
effect, with its twin belltowers and single massive dome, its majestic
breadth of steps rising from the water’s edge, and the many-statued
sculpture of its façade. Strangers go there to see the splendor of its
high altar (where the melodramatic Madonna, as the centre of a marble
group, responds to the prayer of the operatic Venezia, and drives away
the haggard, theatrical Pest), and the excellent Titians and the grand
Tintoretto in the sacristy.

The Salute is one of the great show-churches, like that of San Giovanni
e Paolo, which the common poverty of imagination has decided to call the
Venetian Westminster Abbey, because it contains many famous tombs and
monuments. But there is only one Westminster Abbey; and I am so far a
believer in the perfectibility of our species as to suppose that vergers
are nowhere possible but in England. There would be nothing to say,
after Mr. Ruskin, in praise or blame of the great monuments in San
Giovanni e Paolo, even if I cared to discuss them; I only wonder that,
in speaking of the bad art which produced the tomb of the Venieri, he
failed to mention the successful approach to its depraved feeling, made
by the single figure sitting on the case of a slender shaft, at the side
of the first altar on the right of the main entrance. I suppose this
figure typifies Grief, but it really represents a drunken woman, whose
drapery has fallen, as if in some vile debauch, to her waist, and
who broods, with a horrible, heavy stupor and chopfallen vacancy, on
something which she supports with her left hand upon her knee. It is a
round of marble, and if you have the daring to peer under the arm of
the debauchee, and look at it as she does, you find that it contains the
bass-relief of a skull in bronze. Nothing more ghastly and abominable
than the whole thing can be conceived, and it seemed to me the fit type
of the abandoned Venice which produced it; for one even less Ruskinian
than I might have fancied that in the sculptured countenance could be
seen the dismay of the pleasure-wasted harlot of the sea when, from time
to time, death confronted her amid her revels.

People go into the Chapel of the Rosary here to see the painting of
Titian, representing The Death of Peter Martyr. Behind it stands a
painting of equal size by John Bellini,--the Madonna, Child, and Saints,
of course,--and it is curious to study in the two pictures those points
in which Titian excelled and fell short of his master. The treatment
of the sky in the landscape is singularly alike in both, but where the
greater painter has gained in breadth and freedom, he has lost in that
indefinable charm which belonged chiefly to Bellini, and only to that
brief age of transition, of which his genius was the fairest flower and
ripest fruit. I have looked again and again at nearly every painting of
note in Venice, having a foolish shame to miss a single one, and having
also a better wish to learn something of the beautiful from them; but
at last I must say, that, while I wondered at the greatness of some,
and tried to wonder at the greatness of others, the only paintings which
gave me genuine and hearty pleasure were those of Bellini, Carpaccio,
and a few others of that school and time.

Every day we used to pass through the court of the old Augustinian
convent adjoining the church of San Stefano. It is a long time since
the monks were driven out of their snug hold; and the convent is now
the headquarters of the Austrian engineer corps, and the colonnade
surrounding the court is become a public thoroughfare. On one wall of
this court are remains--very shadowy remains indeed--of frescos painted
by Pordenone at the period of his fiercest rivalry with Titian; and it
is said that Pordenone, while he wrought upon the scenes of scriptural
story here represented, wore his sword and buckler, in readiness to
repel an attack which he feared from his competitor. The story is very
vague, and I hunted it down in divers authorities only to find it grow
more and more intangible and uncertain. But it gave a singular relish
to our daily walk through the old cloister, and I added, for my own
pleasure (and chiefly out of my own fancy, I am afraid, for I can
nowhere localize the fable on which I built), that the rivalry between
the painters was partly a love-jealousy, and that the disputed object of
their passion was that fair Violante, daughter of the elder Palma, who
is to be seen in so many pictures painted by her father, and by her
lover, Titian. No doubt there are readers will care less for this
idleness of mine than for the fact that the hard-headed German monk,
Martin Luther, once said mass in the adjoining church of San Stefano,
and lodged in the convent, on his way to Rome. The unhappy Francesco
Carrara, last Lord of Padua, is buried in this church; but Venetians
are chiefly interested there now by the homilies of those fervent
preacher-monks, who deliver powerful sermons during Lent. The monks are
gifted men, with a most earnest and graceful eloquence, and they attract
immense audiences, like popular and eccentric ministers among ourselves.
It is a fashion to hear them, and although the atmosphere of the
churches in the season of Lent is raw, damp, and most uncomfortable,
the Venetians then throng the churches where they preach. After Lent
the sermons and church-going cease, and the sanctuaries are once more
abandoned to the possession of the priests, droning from the altars to
the scattered kneelers on the floor,--the foul old women and the young
girls of the poor, the old-fashioned old gentlemen and devout ladies
of the better class, and that singular race of poverty-stricken old men
proper to Italian churches, who, having dabbled themselves with holy
water, wander forlornly and aimlessly about, and seem to consort with
the foreigners looking at the objects of interest. Lounging young
fellows of low degree appear with their caps in their hands, long enough
to tap themselves upon the breast and nod recognition to the high-altar;
and lounging young fellows of high degree step in to glance at the faces
of the pretty girls, and then vanish. The droning ends, presently,
and the devotees disappear, the last to go being that thin old woman,
kneeling before a shrine, with a grease-gray shawl falling from her
head to the ground. The sacristan, in his perennial enthusiasm about
the great picture of the church, almost treads upon her as he brings
the strangers to see it, and she gets meekly up and begs of them in
a whispering whimper. The sacristan gradually expels her with the
visitors, and at one o’clock locks the door and goes home.

By chance I have got a fine effect in churches at the five o’clock mass
in the morning, when the worshipers are nearly all peasants who have
come to market, and who are pretty sure, each one, to have a bundle
or basket. At this hour the sacristan is heavy with sleep; he dodges
uncertainly at the tapers as he lights and extinguishes them; and his
manner to the congregation, as he passes through it to the altar, is
altogether rasped and nervous. I think it is best to be one’s self a
little sleepy,--when the barefooted friar at the altar (if it is in the
church of the Scalzi, say) has a habit of getting several centuries
back from you, and of saying mass to the patrician ghosts from the
tombs under your feet and there is nothing at all impossible in the
Renaissance angels and cherubs in marble, floating and fatly tumbling
about on the broken arches of the altars.

I have sometimes been puzzled in Venice to know why churches should keep
cats, church-mice being proverbially so poor, and so little capable of
sustaining a cat in good condition; yet I have repeatedly found sleek
and portly cats in the churches, where they seem to be on terms of
perfect understanding with the priests, and to have no quarrel even with
the little boys who assist at mass. There is, for instance, a cat in the
sacristy of the Frari, which I have often seen in familiar association
with the ecclesiastics there, when they came into his room to robe
or disrobe, or warm their hands, numb with supplication, at the great
brazier in the middle of the floor. I do not think this cat has the
slightest interest in the lovely Madonna of Bellini which hangs in the
sacristy; but I suspect him of dreadful knowledge concerning the tombs
in the church. I have no doubt he has passed through the open door
of Canova’s monument, and that he sees some coherence and meaning in
Titian’s; he has been all over the great mausoleum of the Doge Pesaro,
and he knows whether the griffins descend from their perches at the
midnight hour to bite the naked knees of the ragged black caryatides.
This profound and awful animal I take to be a blood relation of the
cat in the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, who sleeps like a Christian
during divine service, and loves a certain glorious bed on the top of a
bench, where the sun strikes upon him through the great painted window,
and dapples his tawny coat with lovely purples and crimsons.

The church cats are apparently the friends of the sacristans, with whom
their amity is maintained probably by entire cession of the spoils of
visitors. In these, therefore, they seldom take any interest, merely
opening a lazy eye now and then to wink at the sacristans as they drag
the deluded strangers from altar to altar, with intense enjoyment of
the absurdity, and a wicked satisfaction in the incredible stories
rehearsed. I fancy, being Italian cats, they feel something like a
national antipathy toward those troops of German tourists, who always
seek the Sehenswürdigkeiten in companies of ten or twenty,--the men
wearing their beards, and the women their hoops and hats, to look as
much like English people as possible; while their valet marshals them
forward with a stream of guttural information, unbroken by a single
punctuation point. These wise cats know the real English by their
“Murrays;” and I think they make a shrewd guess at the nationality of us
Americans by the speed with which we pass from one thing to another, and
by our national ignorance of all languages but English. They must also
hear us vaunt the superiority of our own land in unpleasant comparisons,
and I do not think they believe us, or like us, for our boastings. I
am sure they would say to us, if they could, “_Quando finirà mai quella
guerra? Che sangue! che orrore_!” [Footnote: “When will this war ever be
ended? what blood! what horror!” I have often heard the question and the
comment from many Italians who were not cats.] The French tourist they
distinguish by his evident skepticism concerning his own wisdom in
quitting Paris for the present purpose; and the traveling Italian, by
his attention to his badly dressed, handsome wife, with whom he is now
making his wedding trip.

I have found churches undergoing repairs (as most of them always are in
Venice) rather interesting. Under these circumstances, the sacristan is
obliged to take you into all sorts of secret places and odd corners,
to show you the objects of interest; and you may often get glimpses of
pictures which, if not removed from their proper places, it would be
impossible to see. The carpenters and masons work most deliberately, as
if in a place so set against progress that speedy workmanship would be
a kind of impiety. Besides the mechanics, there are always idle priests
standing about, and vagabond boys clambering over the scaffolding.
In San Giovanni e Paolo I remember we one day saw a small boy appear
through an opening in the roof, and descend by means of some hundred
feet of dangling rope. The spectacle, which made us ache with fear,
delighted his companions so much that their applause was scarcely
subdued by the sacred character of the place. As soon as he reached the
ground in safety, a gentle, good-natured looking priest took him by the
arm and cuffed his ears. It was a scene for a painter.



Nothing can be fairer to the eye than these “summer isles of Eden” lying
all about Venice, far and near. The water forever trembles and changes,
with every change of light, from one rainbow glory to another, as with
the restless hues of an opal; and even when the splendid tides recede,
and go down with the sea, they leave a heritage of beauty to the
empurpled mud of the shallows, all strewn with green, disheveled
sea-weed. The lagoons have almost as wide a bound as your vision. On the
east and west you can see their borders of sea-shore and main-land; but
looking north and south, there seems no end to the charm of their vast,
smooth, all-but melancholy expanses. Beyond their southern limit rise
the blue Euganean Hills, where Petrarch died; on the north loom
the Alps, white with snow. Dotting the stretches of lagoon in every
direction lie the islands--now piles of airy architecture that the water
seems to float under and bear upon its breast, now

    “Sunny spots of greenery,”

with the bell-towers of demolished cloisters shadowily showing above
their trees;--for in the days of the Republic nearly every one of the
islands had its monastery and its church. At present the greater
number have been fortified by the Austrians, whose sentinel paces the
once-peaceful shores, and challenges all passers with his sharp “_Halt!
Wer da_!” and warns them not to approach too closely. Other islands have
been devoted to different utilitarian purposes, and few are able to keep
their distant promises of loveliness. One of the more faithful is the
island of San Clemente, on which the old convent church is yet standing,
empty and forlorn within, but without all draped in glossy ivy. After
I had learned to row in the gondolier fashion, I voyaged much in the
lagoon with my boat, and often stopped at this church. It has a curious
feature in the chapel of the Madonna di Loreto, which is built in the
middle of the nave, faced with marble, roofed, and isolated from the
walls of the main edifice on all sides. On the back of this there is
a bass-relief in bronze, representing the Nativity--a work much in
the spirit of the bass-reliefs in San Giovanni e Paolo; and one of
the chapels has an exquisite little altar, with gleaming columns of
porphyry. There has been no service in the church for many years;
and this altar had a strangely pathetic effect, won from the black
four-cornered cap of a priest that lay before it, like an offering. I
wondered who the priest was that wore it, and why he had left it there,
as if he had fled away in haste. I might have thought it looked like the
signal of the abdication of a system; the gondolier who was with me took
it up and reviled it as representative of _birbanti matricolati_, who
fed upon the poor, and in whose expulsion from that island he rejoiced.
But he had little reason to do so, since the last use of the place was
for the imprisonment of refractory ecclesiastics. Some of the tombs
of the Morosini are in San Clemente--villanous monuments, with bronze
Deaths popping out of apertures, and holding marble scrolls inscribed
with undying deeds. Indeed, nearly all the decorations of the poor old
church are horrible, and there is one statue in it meant for an angel,
with absolutely the most lascivious face I ever saw in marble.

The islands near Venice are all small, except the Giudecca (which is
properly a part of the city), the Lido, and Murano. The Giudecca,
from being anciently the bounds in which certain factious nobles were
confined, was later laid out in pleasure-gardens, and built up with
summer-palaces. The gardens still remain to some extent; but they are
now chiefly turned to practical account in raising vegetables and
fruits for the Venetian market, and the palaces have been converted into
warehouses and factories. This island produces a variety of beggar, the
most truculent and tenacious in all Venice, and it has a convent of lazy
Capuchin friars, who are likewise beggars. To them belongs the church of
the Redentore, which only the Madonnas of Bellini in the sacristy make
worthy to be seen,--though the island is hardly less famed for this
church than for the difficult etymology of its name.

At the eastern extremity of the Giudecca lies the Island of San Giorgio
Maggiore, with Palladio’s church of that name. There are some great
Tintorettos in the church, and I like the beautiful wood-carvings in
the choir. The island has a sad interest from the political prison into
which part of the old convent has been perverted; and the next island
eastward is the scarcely sadder abode of the mad. Then comes the fair
and happy seat of Armenian learning and piety, San Lazzaro, and then the

The Lido is the sea-shore, and thither in more cheerful days the
Venetians used to resort in great numbers on certain holidays, called
the Mondays of the Lido, to enjoy the sea-breeze and the country
scenery, and to lunch upon the flat tombs of the Hebrews, buried there
in exile from the consecrated Christian ground. On a summer’s day there
the sun glares down upon the sand and flat gravestones, and it seems
the most desolate place where one’s bones might be laid. The Protestants
were once also interred on the Lido, but now they rest (apart from the
Catholics, however) in the cemetery of San Michele.

The island is long and narrow: it stretches between the lagoons and the
sea, with a village at either end, and with bath-houses on the beach,
which is everywhere faced with forts. There are some poor little trees
there, and grass,--things which we were thrice a week grateful for, when
we went thither to bathe. I do not know whether it will give the place
further interest to say, that it was among the tombs of the Hebrews
Cooper’s ingenious Bravo had the incredible good luck to hide himself
from the _sbirri_ of the Republic; or to relate that it was the habit of
Lord Byron to gallop up and down the Lido in search of that conspicuous
solitude of which the sincere bard was fond.

One day of the first summer I spent in Venice (three years of Venetian
life afterward removed it back into times of the remotest antiquity), a
friend and I had the now-incredible enterprise to walk from one end of
the Lido to the other,--from the port of San Nicolò (through which the
Bucintoro passed when the Doges went to espouse the Adriatic) to the
port of Malamocco, at the southern extremity.

We began with that delicious bath which you may have in the Adriatic,
where the light surf breaks with a pensive cadence on the soft sand, all
strewn with brilliant shells. The Adriatic is the bluest water I have
ever seen; and it is an ineffable, lazy delight to lie and watch the
fishing sails of purple and yellow dotting its surface, and the greater
ships dipping down its utmost rim. It was particularly good to do this
after coming out of the water; but our American blood could not brook
much repose, and we got up presently, and started on our walk to the
little village of Malamocco, some three miles away. The double-headed
eagle keeps watch and ward from a continuous line of forts along the
shore, and the white-coated sentinels never cease to pace the bastions,
night or day. Their vision of the sea must not be interrupted by even so
much as the form of a stray passer; and as we went by the forts, we had
to descend from the sea-wall, and walk under it, until we got beyond the
sentry’s beat. The crimson poppies grow everywhere on this sandy little
isle, and they fringe the edges of the bastions with their bloom, as
if the “blood-red blossoms of war” had there sprung from the seeds of
battle sown in old forgotten fights. But otherwise the forts were not
very engaging in appearance. A sentry-box of yellow and black, a sentry,
a row of seaward frowning cannon--there was not much in all this to
interest us; and so we walked idly along, and looked either to the city
rising from the lagoons on one hand, or the ships going down the sea on
the other. In the fields, along the road, were vines and Indian corn;
but instead of those effigies of humanity, doubly fearful from their
wide unlikeness to any thing human, which we contrive to scare away
the birds, the devout peasant-folks had here displayed on poles the
instruments of the Passion of the Lord--the hammer, the cords, the
nails--which at once protected and blessed the fields. But I doubt if
even these would save them from the New-World pigs, and certainly the
fences here would not turn pork, for they are made of a matting of
reeds, woven together, and feebly secured to tremulous posts. The
fields were well cultivated, and the vines and garden vegetables looked
flourishing; but the corn was spindling, and had, I thought, a homesick
look, as if it dreamed vainly of wide ancestral bottom-lands, on
the mighty streams that run through the heart of the Great West. The
Italians call our corn _gran turco_, but I knew that it was for the West
that it yearned, and not for the East.

No doubt there were once finer dwellings than the peasants’ houses which
are now the only habitations on the Lido; and I suspect that a genteel
villa must formerly have stood near the farm-gate, which we found
surmounted by broken statues of Venus and Diana. The poor goddesses were
both headless, and some cruel fortune had struck off their hands, and
they looked strangely forlorn in the swaggering attitudes of the absurd
period of art to which they belonged: they extended their mutilated arms
toward the sea for pity, but it regarded them not; and we passed before
them scoffing at their bad taste, for we were hungry, and it was yet
some distance to Malamocco.

This dirty little village was the capital of the Venetian islands before
King Pepin and his Franks burned it, and the shifting sands of empire
gathered solidly about the Rialto in Venice. It is a thousand years
since that time, and Malamocco has long been given over to fishermen’s
families and the soldiers of the forts. We found the latter lounging
about the unwholesome streets; and the former seated at their
thresholds, engaged in those pursuits of the chase which the use of a
fine-tooth comb would undignify to mere slaughter.

There is a church at Malamocco, but it was closed, and we could not find
the sacristan; so we went to the little restaurant, as the next best
place, and demanded something to eat. What had the padrone? He answered
pretty much to the same effect as the innkeeper in “Don Quixote,” who
told his guests that they could have any thing that walked on the earth,
or swam in the sea, or flew in the air. We would take, then, some fish,
or a bit of veal, or some mutton chops. The padrone sweetly shrugged the
shoulders of apology. There was nothing of all this, but what would we
say to some liver or gizzards of chickens, fried upon the instant and
ready the next breath? No, we did not want them; so we compromised on
some ham fried in a batter of eggs, and reeking with its own fatness.
The truth is, it was a very bad little lunch we made, and nothing
redeemed it but the amiability of the smiling padrone and the bustling
padrona, who served us as kings and princes. It was a clean hostelry,
though, and that was a merit in Malamocco, of which the chief modern
virtue is that it cannot hold you long. No doubt it was more interesting
in other times. In the days when the Venetians chose it for their
capital, it was a walled town, and fortified with towers. It has been
more than once inundated by the sea, and it might again be washed out
with advantage.

In the spring, two years after my visit to Malamocco, we people in Casa
Falier made a long-intended expedition to the island of Torcello, which
is perhaps the most interesting of the islands of the lagoons. We had
talked of it all winter, and had acquired enough property there to put
up some light Spanish castles on the desolate site of the ancient city,
that, so many years ago, sickened of the swamp air and died. A Count
from Torcello is the title which Venetian persiflage gives to improbable
noblemen; and thus even the pride of the dead Republic of Torcello has
passed into matter of scornful jest, as that of the dead Republic of
Venice may likewise in its day.

When we leave the riva of Casa Falier, we pass down the Grand Canal,
cross the Basin of St. Mark, and enter one of the narrow canals
that intersect the Riva degli Schiavoni, whence we wind and deviate
southwestward till we emerge near the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, on
the Fondamenta Nuove. On our way we notice that a tree, hanging over the
water from a little garden, is in full leaf, and at Murano we see the
tender bloom of peaches and the drifted blossom of cherry-trees.

As we go by the Cemetery of San Michele, Piero the gondolier and
Giovanna improve us with a little solemn pleasantry.

“It is a small place,” says Piero, “but there is room enough for all
Venice in it.”

“It is true,” assents Giovanna, “and here we poor folks become
landholders at last.”

At Murano we stop a moment to look at the old Duomo, and to enjoy its
quaint mosaics within, and the fine and graceful spirit of the _apsis_
without. It is very old, this architecture; but the eternal youth of the
beautiful belongs to it, and there is scarce a stone fallen from it that
I would replace.

The manufacture of glass at Murano, of which the origin is so remote,
may be said to form the only branch of industry which still flourishes
in the lagoons. Muranese beads are exported to all quarters in vast
quantities, and the process of making them is one of the things that
strangers feel they must see when visiting Venice. The famous mirrors
are no longer made, and the glass has deteriorated in quality, as well
as in the beauty of the thousand curious forms it took. The test of the
old glass, which is now imitated a great deal, is its extreme lightness.
I suppose the charming notion that glass was once wrought at Murano of
such fineness that it burst into fragments if poison were poured into
it, must be fabulous. And yet it would have been an excellent thing in
the good old toxicological days of Italy; and people of noble family
would have found a sensitive goblet of this sort as sovereign against
the arts of venomers as an exclusive diet of boiled eggs. The city of
Murano has dwindled from thirty to five thousand in population. It is
intersected by a system of canals like Venice, and has a Grand Canal of
its own, of as stately breadth as that of the capital. The finer houses
are built on this canal; but the beautiful palaces, once occupied in
_villeggiatura_ by the noble Venetians, are now inhabited by herds of
poor, or converted into glass-works. The famous Cardinal Bembo and other
literati made the island their retreat, and beautified it with gardens
and fountains. Casa Priuli in that day was, according to Venetian ideas,
“a terrestrial Paradise,” and a proper haunt of “nymphs and demi-gods.”
 But the wealth, the learning, and the elegance of former times, which
planted “groves of Academe” at Murano, have passed away, and the fair
pleasure-gardens are now weed-grown wastes, or turned into honest
cabbage and potato patches. It is a poor, dreary little town, with an
inexplicable charm in its decay. The city arms are still displayed upon
the public buildings (for Murano was ruled, independently of Venice, by
its own council); and the heraldic cock, with a snake in its beak, has
yet a lusty and haughty air amid the ruin of the place.

The way in which the spring made itself felt upon the lagoon was full of
curious delight. It was not so early in the season that we should know
the spring by the first raw warmth in the air, and there was as yet
no assurance of her presence in the growth--later so luxuriant--of the
coarse grasses of the shallows. But somehow the spring was there, giving
us new life with every breath. There were fewer gulls than usual, and
those we saw sailed far overhead, debating departure. There was deeper
languor in the laziness of the soldiers of finance, as they lounged and
slept upon their floating custom houses in every channel of the lagoons;
and the hollow voices of the boatmen, yelling to each other as their
wont is, had an uncommon tendency to diffuse themselves in echo. Over
all, the heavens had put on their summer blue, in promise of that
delicious weather which in the lagoons lasts half the year, and which
makes every other climate seem niggard of sunshine and azure skies.
I know we have beautiful days at home--days of which the sumptuous
splendor used to take my memory with unspeakable longing and regret even
in Italy;--but we do not have, week after week, month after month, that

    “Blue, unclouded weather,”

which, at Venice, contents all your senses, and makes you exult to be
alive with the inarticulate gladness of children, or of the swallows
that there all day wheel and dart through the air, and shriek out a
delight too intense and precipitate for song.

The island of Torcello is some five miles away from Venice, in the
northern lagoon. The city was founded far back in the troubled morning
of Christian civilization, by refugees from barbarian invasion, and
built with stones quarried from the ruins of old Altinum, over which
Attila had passed desolating. During the first ages of its existence
Torcello enjoyed the doubtful advantage of protection from the Greek
emperors, but fell afterward under the domination of Venice. In the
thirteenth century the _debris_ of the river that emptied into the
lagoon there began to choke up the wholesome salt canals, and to poison
the air with swampy malaria; and in the seventeenth century the city had
so dwindled that the Venetian _podestà_ removed his residence from
the depopulated island to Burano,--though the bishopric established
immediately after the settlement of the refugees at Torcello continued
there till 1814, to the satisfaction, no doubt, of the frogs and
mosquitoes that had long inherited the former citizens.

I confess that I know little more of the history of Torcello than I
found in my guide-book. There I read that the city had once stately
civic and religious edifices, and that in the tenth century the Emperor
Porphorygenitus called it “_magnum emporium Torcellanorum_.” The
much-restored cathedral of the seventh century, a little church, a
building supposed to have been the public palace, and other edifices so
ruinous and so old that their exact use in other days is not now known,
are all that remain of the _magnum emporium_, except some lines of
moldering wall that wander along the canals, and through pastures and
vineyards, in the last imbecile stages of dilapidation and decay. There
is a lofty bell-tower, also, from which, no doubt, the Torcellani
used to descry afar off the devouring hordes of the barbarians on the
main-land, and prepare for defense. As their city was never actually
invaded, I am at a loss to account for the so-called Throne of Attila,
which stands in the grass-grown piazza before the cathedral; and I fear
that it may really have been after all only the seat which the ancient
Tribunes of Torcello occupied on public occasions. It is a stone
arm-chair, of a rude stateliness, and though I questioned its
authenticity, I went and sat down in it a little while, to give myself
the benefit of a doubt in case Attila had really pressed the same seat.

As soon as our gondola touched the grassy shores at Torcello, Giovanna’s
children, Beppi and Nina, whom we had brought with us to give a first
experience of trees and flowers and mother earth, leaped from the boat
and took possession of land and water. By a curious fatality the little
girl, who was bred safely amid the hundred canals of Venice, signalized
her absence from their perils by presently falling into the only
canal in Torcello, whence she was taken dripping, to be confined at
a farm-house during the rest of our stay. The children were wild with
pleasure, being absolutely new to the country, and ran over the island,
plucking bouquets of weeds and flowers by armsful. A rake, borne afield
upon the shoulder of a peasant, afterwhile fascinated the Venetian
Beppi, and drew him away to study its strange and wonderful uses.

The simple inhabitants of Torcello came forth with gifts, or rather
bargains, of flowers, to meet their discoverers, and, in a little while,
exhausted our soldi. They also attended us in full force when we sat
down to lunch,--the old, the young men and maidens, and the little
children, all alike sallow, tattered, and dirty. Under these
circumstances, a sense of the idyllic and the patriarchal gave zest to
our collation, and moved us to bestow, in a splendid manner, fragments
of the feast among the poor Torcellani. Knowing the abstemiousness
of Italians everywhere, and seeing the hungry fashion in which the
islanders clutched our gifts and devoured them, it was our doubt whether
any one of them had ever experienced perfect repletion. I incline to
think that a chronic famine gnawed their entrails, and that they never
filled their bellies but with draughts of the east wind disdained of
Job. The smaller among them even scrambled with the dog for the bones,
until a little girl was bitten, when a terrific tumult arose, and the
dog was driven home by the whole multitude. The children presently
returned. They all had that gift of beauty which Nature seldom denies to
the children of their race; but being, as I said, so dirty, their
beauty shone forth chiefly from their large soft eyes. They had a very
graceful, bashful archness of manner, and they insinuated beggary so
winningly, that it would have been impossible for hungry people to deny
them. As for us, having lunched, we gave them every thing that remained,
and went off to feast our enthusiasm for art and antiquity in the

Of course, I have not the least intention of describing it. I remember
best among its wonders the bearing of certain impenitents in one of
the mosaics on the walls, whom the earnest early artist had meant to
represent as suffering in the flames of torment. I think, however, I
have never seen complacence equal to that of these sinners, unless it
was in the countenances of the seven fat kine, which, as represented in
the vestibule of St. Mark’s, wear an air of the sleepiest and laziest
enjoyment, while the seven lean kine, having just come up from the
river, devour steaks from their bleeding haunches. There are other
mosaics in the Torcello cathedral, especially those in the _apsis_ and
in one of the side chapels, which are in a beautiful spirit of art, and
form the widest possible contrast to the eighteenth-century high altar,
with its insane and ribald angels flying off at the sides, and poising
themselves in the rope-dancing attitudes favored by statues of heavenly
persons in the decline of the Renaissance. The choir is peculiarly
built, in the form of a half-circle, with seats rising one above
another, as in an amphitheatre, and a flight of steps ascending to the
bishop’s seat above all,--after the manner of the earliest Christian
churches. The partition parapet before the high altar is of almost
transparent marble, delicately and quaintly sculptured with peacocks and
lions, as the Byzantines loved to carve them; and the capitals of the
columns dividing the naves are of infinite richness. Part of the marble
pulpit has a curious bass-relief, said to be representative of the
worship of Mercury; and indeed the Torcellani owe much of the beauty of
their Duomo to unrequited antiquity. (They came to be robbed in their
turn: for the opulence of their churches was so great that in the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the severest penalties had to be
enacted against those who stole from them. No one will be surprised to
learn that the clergy themselves participated in these spoliations; but
I believe no ecclesiastic was ever lashed in the piazza, or deprived of
an eye or a hand for his offense.) The Duomo has the peculiar Catholic
interest, and the horrible fascination, of a dead saint’s mortal part in
a glass case.

An arcade runs along the facade of the cathedral, and around the side
and front of the adjoining church of Santa Fosca, which is likewise very
old. But we found nothing in it but a dusty, cadaverous stench, and so
we came away and ascended the campanile. From the top of this you have
a view of the lagoon, in all its iridescent hues, and of the heaven-blue
sea. Here, looking toward the main-land, I would have been glad to
experience the feelings of the Torcellani of old, as they descried the
smoking advance of Huns or Vandals. But the finer emotions are like
gifted children, and are seldom equal to occasions. I am ashamed to say
that mine got no further than Castle Bluebeard, with Lady Bluebeard’s
sister looking out for her brothers, and tearfully responding to Lady
B.’s repeated and agonized entreaty, “O sister, do you see them yet?”

The old woman who had opened the door of the campanile was surprised
into hospitality by the sum of money we gave her, and took us through
her house (which was certainly very neat and clean) into her garden,
where she explained the nature of many familiar trees and shrubs to us
poor Venetians.

We went back home over the twilight lagoon, and Giovanna expressed the
general feeling when she said: “_Torsello xe beo--no si pol negar--la
campagna xe bea; ma, benedetta la mia Venezia!_”

(The country is beautiful--it can’t be denied--Torcello is beautiful;
but blessed be my Venice!)

The panorama of the southern lagoon is best seen in a voyage to
Chioggia, or Ciozza, the quaint and historic little city that lies
twenty miles away from Venice, at one of the ports of the harbor. The
Giant Sea-wall, built there by the Republic in her decline, is a work of
Roman grandeur, which impresses you more deeply than any other monument
of the past with a sense of her former industrial and commercial
greatness. Strips of village border the narrow Littorale all the way
to Chioggia, and on the right lie the islands of the lagoon. Chioggia
itself is hardly more than a village,--a Venice in miniature, like
Murano, with canals and boats and bridges. But here the character of
life is more amphibious than in brine-bound Venice; and though there is
no horse to be seen in the central streets of Chioggia, peasants’ teams
penetrate her borders by means of a long bridge from the main-land.

Of course Chioggia has passed through the customary vicissitudes of
Italian towns, and has been depopulated at divers times by pestilence,
famine, and war. It suffered cruelly in the war with the Genoese in
1380, when it was taken by those enemies of St. Mark; and its people
were so wasted by the struggle that the Venetians, on regaining it, were
obliged to invite immigration to repopulate its emptiness. I do not know
how great comfort the Chiozzotti of that unhappy day took in the fact
that some of the earliest experiments with cannon were made in the
contest that destroyed them, but I can hardly offer them less tribute
than to mention it here. At present the place is peopled almost entirely
by sailors and fishermen, whose wives are more famous for their beauty
than their amiability. Goldoni’s “Baruffe Chiozzotte” is an amusing and
vivid picture of the daily battles which the high-spirited ladies of
the city fought in the dramatist’s [Footnote: Goldoni’s family went from
Venice to Chioggia when the dramatist was very young. The description
of his life there form some of the most interesting chapters of his
Memoirs.] time, and which are said to be of frequent occurrence at this
day. The Chiozzotte are the only women of this part of Italy who still
preserve a semblance of national costume; and this remnant of more
picturesque times consists merely of a skirt of white, which, being open
in front, is drawn from the waist over the head and gathered in the hand
under the chin, giving to the flashing black eyes and swarthy features
of the youthful wearer a look of very dangerous slyness and cunning.
The dialect of the Chiozzotti is said to be that of the early Venetians,
with an admixture of Greek, and it is infinitely more sweet and musical
than the dialect now spoken in Venice. “Whether derived,” says the
author of the “Fiore di Venezia,” alluding to the speech of these
peculiar people, “from those who first settled these shores, or
resulting from other physical and moral causes, it is certain that the
tone of the voice is here more varied and powerful: the mouth is thrown
wide open in speaking; a passion, a lament mingles with laughter itself,
and there is a continual _ritornello_ of words previously spoken. But
this speech is full of energy; whoever would study brief and strong
modes of expression should come here.”

Chioggia was once the residence of noble and distinguished persons,
among whom was the painter Rosalba Carrera, famed throughout Europe for
her crayon miniatures; and the place produced in the sixteenth century
the great maestro Giuseppe Zarlino, “who passes,” says Cantù, “for the
restorer of modern music,” and “whose ‘Orfeo’ heralded the invention
of the musical drama.” This composer claimed for his birthplace the
doubtful honor of the institution of the order of the Capuchins, which
he declared to have been founded by Fra Paolo (Giovanni Sambi) of
Chioggia. There is not much now to see in poor little Chioggia except
its common people, who, after a few minutes’ contemplation, can hardly
interest any one but the artist. There are no dwellings in the town
which approach palatial grandeur, and nothing in the Renaissance
churches to claim attention, unless it be an attributive Bellini in
one of them. Yet if you have the courage to climb the bell-tower of
the cathedral, you get from its summit the loveliest imaginable view of
many-purpled lagoon and silver-flashing sea; and if you are sufficiently
acquainted with Italy and Italians to observe a curious fact, and care
to study the subject, you may note the great difference between the
inhabitants of Chioggia and those of Palestrina,--an island divided from
Chioggia by a half mile of lagoon, and by quite different costume, type
of face, and accent.

Just between Chioggia and the sea lies the lazy town of Sottomarina, and
I should say that the population of Sottomarina chiefly spent its time
in lounging up and down the Sea-wall; while that of Chioggia, when not
professionally engaged with the net, gave its leisure to playing _mora_
[Footnote: Mora is the game which the Italians play with their fingers,
one throwing out two, three, or four fingers, as the case may be, and
calling the number at the same instant. If (so I understood the game)
the player mistakes the number of fingers he throws out, he loses; if he
hits the number with both voice and fingers he wins. It is played with
tempestuous interest, and is altogether fiendish in appearance.] in the
shade, or pitilessly pursuing strangers, and offering them boats. For my
own part, I refused the subtlest advances of this kind which were made
me in Chiozzotto, but fell a helpless prey to a boatman who addressed me
in some words of wonderful English, and then rowed me to the Sea-wall at
about thrice the usual fare.

These primitive people are bent, in their out-of-the-world, remote way,
upon fleecing the passing stranger quite as earnestly as other Italians,
and they naïvely improve every occasion for plunder. As we passed up the
shady side of their wide street, we came upon a plump little blond boy,
lying asleep on the stones, with his head upon his arm; and as no
one was near, the artist of our party stopped to sketch the sleeper.
Atmospheric knowledge of the fact spread rapidly, and in a few minutes
we were the centre of a general assembly of the people of Chioggia,
who discussed us, and the artist’s treatment of her subject, in open
congress. They handed round the airy chaff as usual, but were very
orderly and respectful, nevertheless,--one father of the place quelling
every tendency to tumult by kicking his next neighbor, who passed on the
penalty till, by this simple and ingenious process, the guilty cause of
the trouble was infallibly reached and kicked at last. I placed a number
of soldi in the boy’s hand, to the visible sensation of the crowd, and
then we moved away and left him, heading, as we went, a procession of
Chiozzotti, who could not make up their minds to relinquish us till
we took refuge in a church. When we came out the procession had
disappeared, but all round the church door, and picturesquely scattered
upon the pavement in every direction, lay boys asleep, with their
heads upon their arms. As we passed laughing through the midst of these
slumberers, they rose and followed us with cries of “_Mi tiri zu! Mi
tiri zu!_” (Take me down! Take me down!) They ran ahead, and fell asleep
again in our path, and round every corner we came upon a sleeping boy;
and, indeed, we never got out of that atmosphere of slumber till we
returned to the steamer for Venice, when Chioggia shook off her drowsy
stupor, and began to tempt us to throw soldi into the water, to be dived
for by her awakened children.



Among the pleasantest friends we made in Venice were the monks of the
Armenian Convent, whose cloistral buildings rise from the glassy lagoon,
upon the south of the city, near a mile away. This bulk

    “Of mellow brick-work on an isle of bowers”

is walled in with solid masonry from the sea, and encloses a
garden-court, filled with all beautiful flowers, and with the memorable
trees of the East; while another garden encompasses the monastery
itself, and yields those honest fruits and vegetables which supply the
wants of the well-cared-for mortal part of the good brothers. The island
is called San Lazzaro, and the convent was established in 1717 by a
learned and devoted Armenian priest named Mechithar, from whom the
present order of monks is called Mechitharist. He was the first who
formed the idea of educating a class of priests to act as missionaries
among the Armenian nation in the East, and infuse into its civil and
religious decay the life of European piety and learning. He founded at
Sebaste, therefore, a religious order of which the seat was presently
removed to Constantinople, where the friars met with so much persecution
from Armenian heterodoxy that it was again transferred, and fixed at
Modone in Morea. That territory falling into the hands of the Turks,
the Mechitharists fled with their leader to Venice, where the Republic
bestowed upon them a waste and desolate island, which had formerly
been used as a place of refuge for lepers; and the monks made it the
loveliest spot in all the lagoons.

The little island has such a celebrity in travel and romance, that I
feel my pen catching in the tatters of a threadbare theme. And yet I
love the place and its people so well, that I could scarcely pass it
without mention. Every tourist who spends a week in Venice goes to see
the convent, and every one is charmed with it and the courteous welcome
of the fathers. Its best interest is the intrinsic interest attaching
to it as a seat of Armenian culture; but persons who relish the
cheap sentimentalism of Byron’s life, find the convent all the more
entertaining from the fact that he did the Armenian language the favor
to study it there, a little. The monks show his autograph, together with
those of other distinguished persons, and the Armenian Bible which
he used to read. I understood from one of the friars, Padre Giacomo
Issaverdanz, that the brothers knew little or nothing of Byron’s
celebrity as a poet while he studied with them, and that his proficiency
as an Armenian scholar was not such as to win high regard from them.

I think most readers who have visited the convent will recall the
pleasant face and manners of the young father mentioned, who shows the
place to English-speaking travelers, and will care to know that Padre
Giacomo was born at Smyrna, and dwelt there in the family of an English
lady, till he came to Venice, and entered on his monastic life at San

He came one morning to breakfast with us, bringing with him Padre
Alessio, a teacher in the Armenian College in the city. As for the
latter, it was not without a certain shock that I heard Mesopotamia
mentioned as his birthplace, having somehow in childhood learned to
regard that formidable name as little better than a kind of profane
swearing. But I soon came to know Padre Alessio apart from his
birthplace, and to find him very interesting as a scholar and an artist.
He threw a little grace of poetry around our simple feast, by repeating
some Armenian verses,--grace all the more ethereal from our entire
ignorance of what the verses meant. Our breakfast-table talk wrought to
friendship the acquaintance made some time before, and the next morning
we received the photograph of Padre Giacomo, and the compliments of the
Orient, in a heaped basket of ripe and luscious figs from the garden
of the Convent San Lazzaro. When, in turn, we went to visit him at
the convent, we had experience of a more curious oriental hospitality.
Refreshments were offered to us as to friends, and we lunched fairily
upon little dishes of rose leaves, delicately preserved, with all
their fragrance, in a “lucent sirup.” It seemed that this was a common
conserve in the East; but we could hardly divest ourselves of the notion
of sacrilege, as we thus fed upon the very most luxurious sweetness
and perfume of the soul of summer. Pleasant talk accompanied the dainty
repast,--Padre Giacomo recounting for us some of his adventures with
the people whom he had to show about the convent, and of whom many
were disappointed at not finding a gallery or museum, and went away in
extreme disgust; and relating with a sly, sarcastic relish that blent
curiously with his sweetness and gentleness of spirit, how some English
people once came with the notion that Lord Byron was an Armenian; how an
unhappy French gentleman, who had been robbed in Southern Italy, would
not be parted a moment from a huge bludgeon which he carried in
his hand, and (probably disordered by his troubles) could hardly be
persuaded from attacking the mummy which is in one of the halls; how
a sharp, bustling, go-ahead Yankee rushed in one morning, rubbing his
hands, and demanding, “Show me all you can in five minutes.”

As a seat of learning, San Lazzaro is famed throughout the Armenian
world, and gathers under its roof the best scholars and poets of that
nation. In the printing-office of the convent books are printed in
some thirty different languages; and a number of the fathers employ
themselves constantly in works of translation. The most distinguished of
the Armenian literati now living at San Lazzaro is the Reverend Father
Gomidas Pakraduni, who has published an Armenian version of “Paradise
Lost,” and whose great labor the translation of Homer, has been recently
issued from the convent press. He was born at Constantinople of an
ancient and illustrious family, and took religious orders at San
Lazzaro, where he was educated, and where for twenty-five years after
his consecration he held the professorship of his native tongue. He
devoted himself especially to the culture of the ancient Armenian, and
developed it for the expression of modern ideas, he made exhaustive
study of the vast collection of old manuscripts at San Lazzaro, and then
went to Paris in pursuance of his purpose, and acquainted himself with
all the treasures of Armenian learning in the Bibliothèque Royale.
He became the first scholar of the age in his national language, and
acquired at the same time a profound knowledge of Latin and Greek.

Returning to Constantinople, Father Pakraduni, whose fame had preceded
him, took up his residence in the family of a noble Armenian, high in
the service of the Turkish government; and while assuming the care of
educating his friend’s children, began those labors of translation
which have since so largely employed him. He made an Armenian version
of Pindar, and wrote a work on Rhetoric, both of which were destroyed
by fire while yet in the manuscript. He labored, meanwhile, on his
translation of the Iliad,--a youthful purpose which he did not see
fulfilled till the year 1860, when he had already touched the Psalmist’s
limit of life. In this translation he revived with admirable success
an ancient species of Armenian verse, which bears, in flexibility and
strength, comparison with the original Greek. Another of his great
labors was the production of an Armenian Grammar, in which he reduced
to rule and order the numerous forms of his native tongue, never before
presented by one work in all its eastern variety.

Padre Giacomo, to whose great kindness I am indebted for a biographic
and critical notice in writing of Father Pakraduni, considers the epic
poem by that scholar a far greater work than any of his philological
treatises, profound and thorough as they are. When nearly completed,
this poem perished in the same conflagration which consumed the Pindar
and the Rhetoric; but the poet patiently began his work anew, and after
eight years gave his epic of twenty books and twenty-two thousand verses
to the press. The hero of the poem is Haïk, the first Armenian patriarch
after the flood, and the founder of a kingly dynasty. Nimrod, the great
hunter, drunk with his victories, declares himself a god, and ordains
his own worship throughout the Orient. Haïk refuses to obey the commands
of the tyrant, takes up arms against him, and finally kills him in
battle. “In the style of this poem,” writes Padre Giacomo, “it is hard
to tell whether to admire most its richness, its energy, its sweetness,
its melancholy, its freedom, its dignity, or its harmony, for it has
all these virtues in turn. The descriptive parts are depicted with the
faithfulest pencil: the battle scenes can only be matched in the Iliad.”

Father Pakraduni returned, after twenty-five years’ sojourn at
Constantinople, to publish his epic at San Lazzaro, where he still
lives, a tranquil, gentle old man, with a patriarchal beauty and
goodness of face. In 1861 he printed his translation of Milton, with
a dedication to Queen Victoria. His other works bear witness to the
genuineness of his inspiration and piety, and the diligence of his
study: they are poems, poetic translations from the Italian, religious
essays, and grammatical treatises.

Indeed, the existence of all the friars at San Lazzaro is one of close
and earnest study; and life grows so fond of these quiet monks that it
will hardly part with them at last. One of them is ninety-five years
old, and, until 1863, there was a lay-brother among them whose years
numbered a hundred and eight, and who died of old age, on the 17th
of September, after passing fifty-eight years at San Lazzaro. From
biographic memoranda furnished me by Padre Giacomo, I learn that the
name of this patriarch was George Karabagiak, and that he was a native
of Kutaieh in Asia Minor. He was for a long time the disciple of Dèdè
Vartabied, a renowned preacher of the Armenian faith, and he afterward
taught the doctrines of his master in the Armenian schools. Failing
in his desire to enter upon the sacerdotal life at Constantinople, he
procured his admission as lay-brother at San Lazzaro, where all his
remaining days were spent. He was but little learned; but he had great
passion for poetry, and he was the author of some thirty small works
on different subjects. During the course of his long and diligent life,
which was chiefly spent in learning and teaching, he may be said to have
hardly known a day’s sickness. And at last he died of no perceptible
disorder. The years tired him to death. He had a trifling illness in
August, and as he convalesced, he grew impatient of the tenacious life
which held him to earth. Slowly pacing up and down the corridors of
the convent, he used to crave the prayers of the brothers whom he met,
beseeching them to intercede with Heaven that he might be suffered to
die. One day he said to the archbishop, “I fear that God has abandoned
me, and I shall live.” Only a little while before his death he wrote
some verses, as Padre Giacomo’s memorandum witnesses, “with a firm and
steady hand,” and the manner of his death was this,--as recorded in the
grave and simple words of my friend’s note:--“Finally, on the 17th of
September, very early in the morning, a brother entering his chamber,
asked him how he was. ‘Well,’ he replied, turning his face to the wall,
and spoke no more. He had passed to a better life.”

It seems to me there is a pathos in the close of this old man’s
life,--which I hope has not been lost by my way of describing it,--and
there is certainly a moral. I have read of an unlucky sage who
discovered the Elixir of Life, and who, after thrice renewing his
existence, at last voluntarily resigned himself to death, because he had
exhausted all that life had to offer of pleasure or of pain, and knew
all its vicissitudes but the very last. Brother Karabagiak seems to have
had no humor to take even a second ease of life. It is perhaps as well
that most men die before reaching the over-ripeness of a hundred
and eight years; and, doubtless, with all our human willfulness and
ignorance, we would readily consent, if we could fix the time, to go
sooner--say, at a hundred and seven years, friends?

Besides the Convent of San Lazzaro, where Armenian boys from all parts
of the East are educated for the priesthood, the nation has a college
in the city in which boys intended for secular careers receive their
schooling. The Palazzo Zenobia is devoted to the use of this college,
where, besides room for study, the boys have abundant space and
apparatus for gymnastics, and ample grounds for gardening. We once
passed a pleasant summer evening there, strolling through the fragrant
alleys of the garden, in talk with the father-professors, and looking
on at the gymnastic feats of the boys; and when the annual exhibition of
the school took place in the fall, we were invited to be present.

The room appointed for the exhibition was the great hall of the palace,
which in other days had evidently been a ball-room. The ceiling was
frescoed in the manner of the last century, with Cupids and Venuses,
Vices and Virtues, fruits and fiddles, dwarfs and blackamoors; and the
painted faces looked down on a scene of as curious interest as ever the
extravagant loves and graces of Tiepolo might hope to see, when the boys
of the college, after assisting at _Te Deum_ in the chapel, entered the
room, and took their places.

At the head of the hall sat the archbishop in his dark robes, with
his heavy gold chain about his neck--a figure and a countenance in all
things spiritual, gracious, and reverend. There is small difference, I
believe, between the creeds of the Armenians and the Roman Catholics,
but a very great disparity in the looks of the two priesthoods, which is
all in favor of the former. The Armenian wears his beard, and the
Latin shaves--which may have a great deal to do with the holiness of
appearance. Perhaps, also, the gentle and mild nature of the
oriental yields more sweetly and entirely to the self-denials of the
ecclesiastical vocation, and thus wins a fairer grace from them. At any
rate, I have not seen any thing but content and calm in the visages of
the Armenian fathers, among whom the priest-face, as a type, does not
exist, though it would mark the Romish ecclesiastic in whatever dress he
wore. There is, moreover, a look of such entire confidence and unworldly
sincerity in their eyes, that I could not help thinking, as I turned
from the portly young fathers to the dark-faced, grave, old-fashioned
school-boys, that an exchange of beard only was needed to effect an
exchange of character between those youthful elders and their pupils.
The gray-haired archbishop is a tall and slender man; but nearly all the
fathers take kindly to curves and circles, and glancing down a row of
these amiable priests I could scarcely repress a smile at the constant
recurrence of the line of beauty in their well-rounded persons.

On the right and left of the archbishop were the few invited guests,
and at the other end of the saloon sat one of the fathers, the plump
key-stone of an arch of comfortable young students expanding toward
us. Most of the boys are from Turkey (the Armenians of Venice, though
acknowledging the Pope as their spiritual head, are the subjects of the
Sultan), others are of Asiatic birth, and two are Egyptians.

As to the last, I think the Sphinx and the Pyramid could hardly have
impressed me more than their dark faces, that seemed to look vaguely
on our modern world from the remote twilights of old, and in their very
infancy to be reverend through the antiquity of their race. The mother
of these boys--a black-eyed, olive-cheeked lady, very handsome and
stylish--was present with their younger brother. I hardly know whether
to be ashamed of having been awed by hearing of the little Egyptian that
his native tongue was Arabic, and that he spoke nothing more occidental
than Turkish. But, indeed, was it wholly absurd to offer a tacit homage
to this favored boy, who must know the “Arabian Nights” in the original?

The exercises began with a theme in Armenian--a language which, but for
its English abundance of sibilants, and a certain German rhythm, was
wholly outlandish to our ears. Themes in Italian, German, and French
succeeded, and then came one in English. We afterward had speech with
the author of this essay, who expressed the liveliest passion for
English, in the philosophy and poetry of which it seemed he particularly
delighted. He told us that he was a Constantinopolitan, and that in
six months more he would complete his collegiate course, when he would
return to his native city, and take employment in the service of the
Turkish Government. Many others of the Armenian students here also find
this career open to them in the East.

The literary exercises closed with another essay in Armenian; and then
the archbishop delivered, very gracefully and impressively, an address
to the boys. After this, the distribution of the premiums--medals of
silver and bronze, and books--took place at the desk of the archbishop.
Each boy, as he advanced to receive his premium, knelt and touched the
hand of the priest with his lips and forehead,--a quaint and pleasing
ceremony which had preceded and followed the reading of all the themes.

The social greetings and congratulations that now took place ended
an entertainment throughout which every body was pleased, and the
goodnatured fathers seemed to be moved with a delight no less hearty
than that of the boys themselves. Indeed, the ground of affection and
confidence on which the lads and their teachers seemed to meet, was
something very novel and attractive. We shook hands with our smiling
friends among the padri, took leave of the archbishop, and then visited
the studio of Padre Alessio, who had just finished a faithful and
spirited portrait of monsignore. Adieux to the artist and to Padre
Giacomo brought our visit to an end; and so, from that scene of oriental
learning, simplicity, and kindliness, we walked into our western life
once more, and resumed our citizenship and burden in the Venetian
world--out of the waters of which, like a hydra or other water beast, a
bathing boy instantly issued and begged of us.

A few days later our good Armenians went to pass a month on the
main-land near Padua, where they have comfortable possessions. Peace
followed them, and they came back as plump as they went.



As I think it extremely questionable whether I could get through a
chapter on this subject without some feeble pleasantry about Shylock,
and whether, if I did, the reader would be at all satisfied that I had
treated the matter fully and fairly, I say at the beginning that Shylock
is dead; that if he lived, Antonio would hardly spit upon his gorgeous
pantaloons or his Parisian coat, as he met him on the Rialto; that
he would far rather call out to him, “_Ció Shylock! Bon dí! Go piaser
vederla;_” [Footnote: “Shylock, old fellow, good-day. Glad to see you.”]
that if Shylock by any chance entrapped Antonio into a foolish promise
to pay him a pound of his flesh on certain conditions, the honest
commissary of police before whom they brought their affair would dismiss
them both to the madhouse at San Servolo. In a word, the present social
relations of Jew and Christian in this city render the “Merchant of
Venice” quite impossible; and the reader, though he will find the Ghetto
sufficiently noisome and dirty, will not find an oppressed people there,
nor be edified by any of those insults or beatings which it was once a
large share of Christian duty to inflict upon the enemies of our
faith. The Catholic Venetian certainly understands that his Jewish
fellow-citizen is destined to some very unpleasant experiences in the
next world, but _Corpo di Bacco_! that is no reason why he should not
be friends with him in this. He meets him daily on exchange and at the
Casino, and he partakes of the hospitality of his conversazioni. If he
still despises him--and I think he does, a little--he keeps his contempt
to himself, for the Jew is gathering into his own hands great part of
the trade of the city, and has the power that belongs to wealth. He is
educated, liberal, and enlightened, and the last great name in Venetian
literature is that of the Jewish historian of the Republic, Romanin.
The Jew’s political sympathies are invariably patriotic, and he calls
himself, not Ebreo, but Veneziano. He lives, when rich, in a palace or a
fine house on the Grand Canal, and he furnishes and lets many others (I
must say at rates which savor of the loan secured by the pound of flesh)
in which he does not live. The famous and beautiful Ca’ Doro now belongs
to a Jewish family; and an Israelite, the most distinguished physician
in Venice, occupies the _appartamento signorile_ in the palace of the
famous Cardinal Bembo. The Jew is a physician, a banker, a manufacturer,
a merchant; and he makes himself respected for his intelligence and
his probity,--which perhaps does not infringe more than that of Italian
Catholics. He dresses well,--with that indefinable difference, however,
which distinguishes him in every thing from a Christian,--and his wife
and daughter are fashionable and stylish, They are sometimes, also, very
pretty; and I have seen one Jewish lady who might have stepped out
of the sacred page, down from the patriarchal age, and been known for
Rebecca, with her oriental grace, and delicate, sensitive, high-bred
look and bearing--no more western and modern than a lily of Palestine.

But it is to the Ghetto I want to take you now (by the way we went one
sunny day late last fall), that I may show you something of the Jewish
past, which has survived to the nineteenth century in much of the
discomfort and rank savor of the dark ages.

In the fifteenth century all the riches of the Orient had been poured
into the lap of Venice, and a spirit of reckless profusion took
possession of her citizens. The money, hastily and easily amassed, went
as rapidly as it came. It went chiefly for dress, in which the Venetian
still indulges very often to the stint of his stomach; and the ladies of
that bright-colored, showy day bore fortunes on their delicate persons
in the shape of costly vestments of scarlet, black, green, white,
maroon, or violet, covered with gems, glittering with silver buttons,
and ringing with silver bells. The fine gentlemen of the period were not
behind them in extravagance; and the priests were peculiarly luxurious
in dress, wearing gay silken robes, with cowls of fur, and girdles
of gold and silver. Sumptuary laws were vainly passed to repress the
general license, and fortunes were wasted, and wealthy families reduced
to beggary. [Footnote: Galliciolli, _Memorie Venete_.] At this time,
when so many worthy gentlemen and ladies had need of the Uncle to whom
hard-pressed nephews fly to pledge the wrecks of prosperity, there
was yet no Monte di Pietà, and the demand for pawnbrokers becoming
imperative, the Republic was obliged to recall the Hebrews from the
exile into which they had been driven some time before, that they might
set up pawnshops and succor necessity. They came back, however, only for
a limited time, and were obliged to wear a badge of yellow color upon
the breast, to distinguish them from the Christians, and later a yellow
cap, then a red hat, and then a hat of oil-cloth. They could not acquire
houses or lands in Venice, nor practice any trade, nor exercise any
noble art but medicine. They were assigned a dwelling-place in the
vilest and unhealthiest part of the city, and their quarter was
called Ghetto, from the Hebrew _nghedah_, a congregation. [Footnote:
Mutinelli.] They were obliged to pay their landlords a third more rent
than Christians paid; the Ghetto was walled in, and its gates were kept
by Christian guards, who every day opened them at dawn and closed them
at dark, and who were paid by the Jews. They were not allowed to issue
at all from the Ghetto on holidays; and two barges, with armed men,
watched over them night and day, while a special magistracy had
charge of their affairs. Their synagogues were built at Mestre, on the
main-land; and their dead were buried in the sand upon the seashore,
whither, on the Mondays of September, the baser sort of Venetians went
to make merry, and drunken men and women danced above their desecrated
tombs. These unhappy people were forced also to pay tribute to the state
at first every third year, then every fifth year, and then every tenth
year, the privilege of residence being ingeniously renewed to them at
these periods for a round sum; but, in spite of all, they flourished
upon the waste and wickedness of their oppressors, waxed rich as these
waxed poor, and were not again expelled from the city. [Footnote: _Del
Commercia del Veneziani_. Mutinelli.]

There never was any attempt to disturb the Hebrews by violence, except
on one occasion, about the close of the fifteenth century, when a tumult
was raised against them for child-murder. This, however, was promptly
quelled by the Republic before any harm was done them; and they dwelt
peacefully in their Ghetto till the lofty gates of their prison caught
the sunlight of modern civilization, and crumbled beneath it. Then many
of the Jews came forth and fixed their habitations in different parts
of the city, but many others clung to the spot where their temples still
remain, and which was hallowed by long suffering, and soaked with the
blood of innumerable generations of geese. So, although you find Jews
everywhere in Venice, you never find a Christian in the Ghetto, which is
held to this day by a large Hebrew population.

We had not started purposely to see the Ghetto, and for this reason it
had that purely incidental relish, which is the keenest possible savor
of the object of interest. We were on an expedition to find Sior Antonio
Rioba, who has been, from time immemorial, the means of ponderous
practical jokes in Venice. Sior Antonio is a rough-hewn statue set in
the corner of an ordinary grocery, near the Ghetto. He has a pack on
his back and a staff in his hand; his face is painted, and is habitually
dishonored with dirt thrown upon it by boys. On the wall near him is
painted a bell-pull, with the legend, _Sior Antonio Rioba_. Rustics,
raw apprentices, and honest Germans new to the city, are furnished with
packages to be carried to Sior Antonio Rioba, who is very hard to find,
and not able to receive the messages when found, though there is always
a crowd of loafers near to receive the unlucky simpleton who brings
them. _“E poi, che commedia vederli arrabiarsi! Che ridere_!” That is
the Venetian notion of fun, and no doubt the scene is amusing. I was
curious to see Sior Antonio, because a comic journal bearing his name
had been published during the time of the Republic of 1848, and from the
fact that he was then a sort of Venetian Pasquino. But I question now
if he was worth seeing, except as something that brought me into the
neighborhood of the Ghetto, and suggested to me the idea of visiting
that quarter.

As we left him and passed up the canal in our gondola, we came unawares
upon the church of Santa Maria dell’ Orto, one of the most graceful
Gothic churches in the city. The façade is exquisite, and has two Gothic
windows of that religious and heavenly beauty which pains the heart
with its inexhaustible richness. One longed to fall down on the space
of green turf before the church, now bathed in the soft golden October
sunshine, and recant these happy, commonplace centuries of heresy,
and have back again the good old believing days of bigotry, and
superstition, and roasting, and racking, if only to have once more the
men who dreamed those windows out of their faith and piety (if they did,
which I doubt), and made them with their patient, reverent hands (if
their hands _were_ reverent, which I doubt). The church is called Santa
Maria dell’ Orto, from the miraculous image of Our Lady which was
found in an orchard where the temple now stands. We saw this miraculous
sculpture, and thought it reflected little credit upon the supernatural
artist. The church is properly that of Saint Christopher, but the
saint has been titularly vanquished by the Madonna, though he comes out
gigantically triumphant in a fresco above the high altar, and leads to
confused and puzzling reminiscences of Bluebeard and Morgante Maggiore,
to both of which characters he bears a bewildering personal resemblance.

There were once many fine paintings by Tintoretto and Bellini in
this church; but as the interior is now in course of restoration, the
paintings have been removed to the Academy, and we only saw one, which
was by the former master, and had all his striking imagination in the
conception, all his strength in the drawing and all his lampblack in the
faded coloring. In the centre of the church, the sacristan scraped the
carpenter’s rubbish away from a flat tablet in the floor, and said that
it was Tintoretto’s tomb. It is a sad thing to doubt even a sacristan,
but I pointed out that the tomb bore any name in the world rather than
Robusti. “Ah!” said the sacristan, “it is just that which makes it so
very curious,--that Tintoretto should wish to be buried under another
name!” [Footnote: Members of the family of Tintoretto are actually
buried in this church; and no sacristan of right feeling could do less
than point out some tomb as that of the great painter himself.]

It was a warm, sunny day in the fall, as I said; yet as we drew near the
Ghetto, we noticed in the air many white, floating particles, like lazy,
straggling flakes of snow. These we afterward found to be the down of
multitudes of geese, which are forever plucked by the whole apparent
force of the populace,--the fat of the devoted birds being substituted
for lard in the kitchens of the Ghetto, and their flesh for pork. As
we approached the obscene little riva at which we landed, a blond young
Israelite, lavishly adorned with feathers, came running to know if we
wished to see the church--by which name he put the synagogue to the
Gentile comprehension. The street through which we passed had shops
on either hand, and at the doors groups of jocular Hebrew youth sat
plucking geese; while within, long files of all that was mortal of geese
hung from the rafters and the walls. The ground was webbed with the feet
of geese, and certain loutish boys, who paused to look at us, had each
a goose dragging at his heels, in the forlorn and elongated manner
peculiar to dead poultry. The ground was stained with the blood of
geese, and the smell of roasting geese came out of the windows of the
grim and lofty houses.

Our guide was picturesque, but the most helpless and inconclusive
cicerone I ever knew; and while his long, hooked Hebrew nose caught my
idle fancy, and his soft blue eyes excused a great deal of inefficiency,
the aimless fashion in which he mounted dirty staircases for the keys
of the synagogue, and came down without them, and the manner in which
he shouted to the heads of unctuous Jessicas thrust out of windows, and
never gained the slightest information by his efforts, were imbecilities
that we presently found insupportable, and we gladly cast him off for a
dark-faced Hebrew boy who brought us at once to the door of the Spanish

Of seven synagogues in the Ghetto, the principal was built in 1655, by
the Spanish Jews who had fled to Venice from the terrors of the Holy
Office. Its exterior has nothing to distinguish it as a place of
worship, and we reached the interior of the temple by means of some dark
and narrow stairs. In the floor and on the walls of the passage-way
were set tablets to the memory of rich and pious Israelites who had
bequeathed their substance for the behoof of the sanctuary; and the
sacristan informed us that the synagogue was also endowed with a fund by
rich descendants of Spanish Jews in Amsterdam. These moneys are kept to
furnish indigent Israelitish couples with the means of marrying, and
who claim the benefit of the fund are entitled to it. The sacristan--a
little wiry man, with bead-black eyes, and of a shoemakerish
presence--told us with evident pride that he was himself a descendant of
the Spanish Jews. Howbeit, he was now many centuries from speaking the
Castilian, which, I had read, was still used in the families of the
Jewish fugitives from Spain to the Levant. He spoke, instead, the
abominable Venetian of Cannaregio, with that Jewish thickness which
distinguishes the race’s utterance, no matter what language its children
are born to. It is a curious philological fact, which I have heard
repeatedly alleged by Venetians, and which is perhaps worth noting
here, that Jews speaking their dialect, have not only this thickness of
accent, but also a peculiarity of construction which marks them at once.

We found the contracted interior of the synagogue hardly worth
looking at. Instead of having any thing oriental or peculiar in its
architecture, it was in a bad spirit of Renaissance art. A gallery
encircled the inside, and here the women, during worship, sat apart
from the men, who had seats below, running back from either side of the
altar. I had no right, coming from a Protestant land of pews, to indulge
in that sentimentality; but I could not help being offended to see that
each of these seats might be lifted up and locked into the upright back
and thus placed beyond question at the disposal of the owner: I like the
freedom and equality in the Catholic churches much better. The sacristan
brought a ponderous silver key, and unlocking the door behind the
pulpit, showed us the Hebrew Scriptures used during the service by the
Rabbi. They formed an immense parchment volume, and were rolled in
silk upon a wooden staff. This was the sole object of interest in the
synagogue, and its inspection concluded our visit.

We descended the narrow stairs and emerged upon the piazza which we
had left. It was only partly paved with brick, and was very dirty. The
houses which surrounded it were on the outside old and shabby, and,
even in this Venice of lofty edifices, remarkably high. A wooden bridge
crossed a vile canal to another open space, where once congregated
the merchants who sell antique furniture, old pictures, and objects of
vertu. They are now, however, found everywhere in the city, and most
of them are on the Grand Canal, where they heap together marvelous
collections, and establish authenticities beyond cavil. “Is it an
original?” asked a young lady who was visiting one of their shops, as
she paused before an attributive Veronese, or--what know I?--perhaps a
Titian. “_Si, signora, originalissimo_!”

I do not understand why any class of Jews should still remain in the
Ghetto, but it is certain, as I said, that they do remain there in great
numbers. It may be that the impurity of the place and the atmosphere is
conducive to purity of race; but I question if the Jews buried on the
sandy slope of the Lido, and blown over by the sweet sea wind--it must
needs blow many centuries to cleanse them of the Ghetto--are not rather
to be envied by the inhabitants of those high dirty houses and low dirty
lanes. There was not a touch of any thing wholesome, or pleasant, or
attractive, to relieve the noisomeness of the Ghetto to its visitors;
and they applauded, with a common voice, the neatness which had prompted
Andrea the gondolier to roll up the carpet from the floor of his
gondola, and not to spread it again within the limits of that quarter.

In the good old times, when pestilence avenged the poor and oppressed
upon their oppressors, what grim and dismal plagues may not have stalked
by night and noonday out of those hideous streets, and passed the marble
bounds of patrician palaces, and brought to the bedsides of the rich and
proud the filthy misery of the Ghetto turned to poison! Thank God that
the good old times are gone and going. One learns in these aged lands to
hate and execrate the past.



We came away from the Ghetto, as we had arrived, in a gentle fall of
goose-down, and winding crookedly through a dirty canal, glided into
purer air and cleaner waters. I cannot well say how it was we came
upon the old Servite Convent, which I had often looked for in vain, and
which, associated with the great name of Paolo Sarpi, is to me one of
the most memorable places in Venice. We reached it, after passing by
that old, old palace, which was appointed in the early ages of Venetian
commerce for the reception of oriental traffic and traffickers, and
where it is said the Moorish merchants resided till the later time of
the Fondaco dei Turchi on the Grand Canal. The façade of the palace is
richly sculptured; and near one corner is the bass-relief of a camel
and his turbaned driver,--in token, perhaps, that man and beast (as
orientals would understand them) were here entertained.

We had lived long enough in Venice to know that it was by no means worth
while to explore the interior of this old palace because the outside was
attractive, and so we left it; and turning a corner, found ourselves
in a shallow canal, with houses on one side, and a grassy bank on the
other. The bank sloped gently from the water up to the walls of some
edifice, on which ruin seemed to have fastened soon after the architect
had begun his work. The vast walls, embracing several acres in their
close, rose only some thirty or forty feet from the ground--only high
enough, indeed, to join over the top of the great Gothic gates, which
pierced them on two façades. There must have been barracks near; for on
the sward, under the walls, muskets were stacked, and Austrian soldiers
were practicing the bayonet-exercise with long poles padded at the
point. “_Ein, zwei, drei,--vorwärts! Ein, zwei, drei,--ruckwärts_!”
 snarled the drill-sergeant, and the dark-faced Hungarian soldiers--who
may have soon afterward prodded their Danish fellow-beings all the
more effectively for that day’s training--stooped, writhed, and leaped
obedient. I, who had already caught sight of a little tablet in the wall
bearing the name of Paolo Sarpi, could not feel the propriety of the
military performance on that scene; yet I was very glad, dismounting
from the gondola, to get by the soldiers without being forced back at
the padded point of a pole, and offered no audible objection to their

So passing to the other side, I found entrance through a disused chapel
to the interior of the convent. The gates on the outside were richly
sculptured, and were reverend and clean; tufts of harsh grass grew
from their arches, and hung down like the “overwhelming brows” of age.
Within, at first light, I saw nothing but heaps of rubbish, piles of
stone, and here and there a mutilated statue. I remember two pathetic
caryatides, that seemed to have broken and sunk under too heavy a weight
for their gentle beauty--and everywhere the unnamable filth with which
ruin is always dishonored in Italy, and which makes the most picturesque
and historic places inaccessible to the foot, and intolerable to the
senses and the soul. I was thinking with a savage indignation on this
incurable _porcheria_, of the Italian poor (who are guilty of such
desecrations), when my eye fell upon an enclosed space in one corner,
where some odd-looking boulders were heaped together. It was a space
about six feet in depth, and twenty feet square; and the boulders, on
closer inspection, turned out to be human skulls, nestling on piles of
human bones. In any other land than Italy I think I should have turned
from the grisly sight with a cowardly sickness and shuddering;
but here!--Why, heaven and earth seem to take the loss of men so
good-naturedly,--so many men have died and passed away with their
difficult, ambitious, and troublesome little schemes,--and the great
mass of mankind is taken so small account of in the course of destiny,
that the idea of death does not appear so alien and repulsive as
elsewhere, and the presence of such evidences of our poor mortality can
scarcely offend sensibility. These were doubtless the bones of the good
Servite friars who had been buried in their convent, and had been digged
up to make way for certain improvements now taking place within its
walls. I have no doubt that their deaths were a rest to their bodies,
to say nothing of their souls. If they were at all in their lives
like those who have come after them, the sun baked their bald brows in
Summer, and their naked feet--poor feet! clapping round in wooden-soled
sandals over the frozen stones of Venice--were swollen and gnawed with
chilblains in winter; and no doubt some fat friar of their number,
looking all the droller in his bare feet for the spectacles on his nose,
came down Calle Falier then, as now, to collect the charity of bread and
fuel, far oftener than the dwellers in that aristocratic precinct wished
to see him.

The friars’ skulls looked contented enough, and smiled after the hearty
manner of skulls; and some of the leg-bones were thrust through the
enclosing fence, and hung rakishly over the top. As to their spirits,
I suppose they must have found out by this time that these confused
and shattered tabernacles which they left behind them are not nearly so
corrupt and dead as the monastic system which still cumbers the earth.
People are building on the site of the old convent a hospital for
indigent and decrepit women, where a religious sisterhood will have care
of the inmates. It is a good end enough, but I think it would be the
true compensation if all the rubbish of the old cloister were cleared
from the area of those walls, and a great garden planted in the space,
where lovers might whisper their wise nonsense, and children might
romp and frolic, till the crumbling, masonry forgot its old office of
imprisonment and the memory of its prisoners. For here, one could only
think of the moping and mumming herd of monks, who were certainly not
worth remembering, while the fame of Paolo Sarpi, and the good which
he did, refused to be localized. That good is an inheritance which has
enriched the world; but the share of Venice has been comparatively
small in it, and that of this old convent ground still less. I rather
wondered, indeed, that I should have taken the trouble to look up the
place; but it is a harmless, if even a very foolish, pastime to go
seeking for the sublime secret of the glory of the palm in the earth
where it struck root and flourished. So far as the lifelong presence and
the death of a man of clear brain and true heart could hallow any scene,
this ground was holy; for here Sarpi lived, and here in his cell
he died, a simple Servite friar--he who had caught the bolts of
excommunication launched against the Republic from Rome, and broken
them in his hand,--who had breathed upon the mighty arm of the temporal
power, and withered it to the juiceless stock it now remains. And yet I
could not feel that the ground _was_ holy, and it did not make me think
of Sarpi; and I believe that only those travelers who invent in cold
blood their impressions of memorable places ever have remarkable
impressions to record.

Once, before the time of Sarpi, an excommunication was pronounced
against the Republic with a result as terrible as that of the later
interdict was absurd. Venice took possession, early in the fourteenth
century, of Ferrara, by virtue of a bargain which the high contracting
parties--the Republic and an exiled claimant to the ducal crown of
Ferrara--had no right to make. The father of the banished prince had
displeased him by marrying late in life, when the thoughts of a good
man should be turned on other things, and the son compassed the sire’s
death. For this the Ferrarese drove him away, and as they would not take
him back to reign over them at the suggestion of Venice, he resigned his
rights in favor of the Republic, and the Republic at once annexed the
city to its territories. The Ferrarese appealed to the pope for his
protection, and Clement V., supporting an ancient but long quiescent
claim to Ferrara on the part of the Church, called upon the Venetians
to surrender the city, and, on their refusal, excommunicated them. All
Christian peoples were commanded “to arm against the Venetians, to spoil
them of their goods, as separated from the union of Christians, and as
enemies of the Roman Church.” They were driven out of Ferrara, but
their troubles did not end with their loss of the city. Giustina
Renier-Michiel says the nations, under the shelter of the pope’s
permission and command, “exercised against them every species of
cruelty; there was no wrong or violence of which they were not victims.
All the rich merchandise which they had in France, in Flanders, and
in other places, was confiscated; their merchants were arrested,
maltreated, and some of them killed. Woe to us, if the Saracens had been
baptized Christians! our nation would have been utterly destroyed.” Such
was the ruin brought upon us by this excommunication that to this day it
is a popular saying, concerning a man of gloomy aspect, “_He looks as if
he were bringing the excommunication of Ferrara_.”

No proverb, sprung from the popular terror, commemorates the interdict
of the Republic which took place in 1606, and which, I believe, does not
survive in popular recollection at Venice. It was at first a collision
of the Venetian and Papal authorities at Ferrara, and then an
interference of the pope to prevent the execution of secular justice
upon certain ecclesiastical offenders in Venetia, which resulted in the
excommunication of the Republic, and finally in the defeat of St. Peter
and the triumph of St. Mark. Chief among the ecclesiastical offenders
mentioned were the worthy Abbate Brandolino of Narvesa, who was accused,
among other things, of poisoning his own father; and the good Canonico
Saraceni of Vicenza, who was repulsed in overtures made to his beautiful
cousin, and who revenged himself by defaming her character, and
“filthily defacing” the doors of her palace. The abbate was arrested,
and the canon, on this lady’s complaint to the Ten at Venice, was thrown
into prison, and the weak and furious Pope Paul V., being refused their
release by the Ten, excommunicated the whole Republic.

In the same year, that is to say 1552, the bane and antidote, Paul the
Pope and Paul Sarpi the friar, were sent into the world. The latter
grew in piety, fame, and learning, and at the time the former began his
quarrel with the Republic, there was none in Venice so fit and prompt
as Sarpi to stand forth in her defense. He was at once taken into the
service of St. Mark, and his clear, acute mind fashioned the spiritual
weapons of the Republic, and helped to shape the secular measures taken
to annul the interdict. As soon as the bull of excommunication was
issued, the Republic instructed her officers to stop every copy of it
at the frontier, and it was never read in any church in the Venetian
dominions. The Senate refused to receive it from the Papal Nuncio. All
priests, monks, and other servants of the Church, as well as all secular
persons, were commanded to disregard it; and refractory ecclesiastics
were forced to open their churches on pain of death. The Jesuits and
Capuchins were banished; and clerical intriguers, whom Rome sent in
swarms to corrupt social and family relations, by declaring an end of
civil government in Venice, and preaching among women disobedience to
patriotic husbands and fathers, were severely punished. With internal
safety thus provided for, the Republic intrusted her moral, religious,
and political defense entirely to Sarpi, who devoted himself to his
trust with fidelity, zeal, and power.

It might have been expected that the friend of Galileo, and the most
learned and enlightened man of his country, would have taken the short
and decisive method of discarding all allegiance to Rome as the most
logical resistance to the unjust interdict. But the Venetians have ever
been faithful Catholics, [Footnote: It is convenient here to attest
the truth of certain views of religious sentiment in Italy, which Mr.
Trollope, in his _Paul the Pope and Paul the Friar_, quotes from an
“Italian author, by no means friendly to Catholicism, and very well
qualified to speak of the progress of opinions and tendencies among his

This author is Bianchi Giovini, who, speaking of modern Catholicism as
the heir of the old materialistic paganism, says: “The Italians have
identified themselves with this mode of religion. Cultivated men find
in it the truth there is in it, and the people find what is agreeable
to them. But both the former and the latter approve it as conformable to
the national character. And whatever may be the religious system which
shall govern our descendants twenty centuries hence, I venture to affirm
that the exterior forms of it will be pretty nearly the same as those
which prevail at present, and which did prevail twenty centuries ago.”
 Mr. Trollope generously dissents from the “_pessimism_” of these views.
The views are discouraging for some reasons; but, with considerable
disposition and fair opportunity to observe Italian character in this
respect, I had arrived at precisely these conclusions. I wish here to
state that in my slight sketch of Sarpi and his times I have availed
myself freely of Mr. Trollope’s delightful book--it is near being too
much of a good thing--named above.] and Sarpi was (or, according to
the papal writers, seemed to be) a sincere and obedient Servite friar,
believing in the spiritual supremacy of the pope, and revering the
religion of Rome. He therefore fought Paul inside of the Church, and his
writings on the interdict remain the monument of his polemical success.
He was the heart and brain of the Republic’s whole resistance,--he
supplied her with inexhaustible reasons and answers,--and, though
tempted, accused, and threatened, he never swerved from his fidelity to

As he was the means of her triumph, [Footnote: The triumph was such only
so far as the successful resistance to the interdict was concerned;
for at the intercession of the Catholic powers the Republic gave up the
ecclesiastical prisoners, and he allowed all the banished priests except
the Jesuits to return. The Venetians utterly refused to perform any
act of humiliation or penance. The interdict had been defied, and it
remained despised.] remained the object of her love. He could never be
persuaded to desert his cell in the Minorite Convent for the apartments
appointed him by the State; and even when his busy days were spent in
council at the Ducal Palace, he returned each night to sleep in the
cloister. After the harmless interdict had been removed by Paul, and the
unyielding Republic forgiven, the wrath of Rome remained kindled against
the friar whose logic had been too keen for the last reason of popes. He
had been tried for heresy in his youth at Milan, and acquitted; again,
during the progress of St. Mark’s quarrel with Rome, his orthodoxy had
been questioned; and now that all was over, and Rome could turn
her attention to one particular offender, he was entreated, coaxed,
commanded to come to her, and put her heart at rest concerning these old
accusations. But Sarpi was very well in Venice. He had been appointed
Consultor in Theology to the Republic, and had received free admission
to the secret archives of the State,--a favor, till then, never bestowed
on any. So he would not go to Rome, and Rome sent assassins to take his
life. One evening, as he was returning from the Ducal Palace in company
with a lay-brother of the convent, and an old patrician, very infirm and
helpless, he was attacked by these _nuncios_ of the papal court: one of
them seized the lay-brother, and another the patrician, while a third
dealt Sarpi innumerable dagger thrusts. He fell as if dead, and the
ruffians made off in the confusion.

Sarpi had been fearfully wounded, but he recovered. The action of the
Republic in this affair is a comforting refutation of the saying
that Republics are ungrateful, and the common belief that Venice was
particularly so. The most strenuous and unprecedented efforts were made
to take the assassins, and the most terrific penalties were denounced
against them. What was much better, new honors were showered upon Sarpi,
and extraordinary and affectionate measures were taken to provide for
his safety.

And, in fine, he lived in the service of the Republic, revered and
beloved, till his seventieth year, when he died with zeal for her good
shaping his last utterance: “I must go to St. Mark, for it is late, and
I have much to do.”

Brave Sarpi, and brave Republic! Men cannot honor them enough. For
though the terrors of the interdict were doubted to be harmless even
at that time, it had remained for them to prove the interdict, then and
forever, an instrument as obsolete as the catapult.

I was so curious as to make some inquiry among the workmen on the old
convent ground, whether any stone or other record commemorative of Sarpi
had been found in the demolished cells. I hoped, not very confidently,
to gather some trace of his presence there--to have, perhaps, the spot
on which he died shown me. To a man, they were utterly ignorant of
Sarpi, while affecting, in the Italian manner, to be perfectly informed
on the subject. I was passed, with my curiosity, from one to another,
till I fell into the hands of a kind of foreman, to whom I put my
questions anew. He was a man of Napoleonic beard, and such fair
red-and-white complexion that he impressed me as having escaped from
a show of wax-works, and I was not at all surprised to find him a wax
figure in point of intelligence. He seemed to think my questions the
greatest misfortunes which had ever befallen him, and to regard each
suggestion of Sarpi--_tempo della Repubblica--scomunica di Paolo
Quinto_--as an intolerable oppression. He could only tell me that on
a certain spot (which he pointed out with his foot) in the demolished
church, there had been found a stone with Sarpi’s name upon it.
The padrone, who had the contract for building the new convent, had
said,--“Truly, I have heard speak of this Sarpi;” but the stone had been
broken, and he did not know what had become of it.

And, in fact, the only thing that remembered Sarpi, on the site of the
convent where he spent his life, died, and was buried, was the little
tablet on the outside of the wall, of which the abbreviated Latin
announced that he had been Theologue to the Republic, and that his dust
was now removed to the island of San Michele. After this failure, I
had no humor to make researches for the bridge on which the friar
was attacked by his assassins. But, indeed, why should I look for it?
Finding it, could I have kept in my mind the fine dramatic picture I now
have, of Sarpi returning to his convent on a mild October evening, weary
with his long walk from St. Mark’s, and pacing with downcast eyes,--the
old patrician and the lay-brother at his side, and the masked and
stealthy assassins, with uplifted daggers, behind him? Nay, I fear I
should have found the bridge with some scene of modern life upon it,
and brought away in my remembrance an old woman with an oil-bottle, or a
straggling boy with a tumbler, and a very little wine in it.

On our way home from the Servite Convent, we stopped again near the
corner and bridge of Sior Antonio Rioba,--this time to go into the house
of Tintoretto, which stands close at the right hand, on the same quay.
The house, indeed, might make some pretensions to be called a palace: it
is large, and has a carved and balconied front, in which are set a
now illegible tablet describing it as the painter’s dwelling, and
a medallion portrait of Robusti. It would have been well if I had
contented myself with this goodly outside; for penetrating, by a long
narrow passage and complicated stairway, to the interior of the house,
I found that it had nothing to offer me but the usual number of
commonplace rooms in the usual blighting state of restoration. I must
say that the people of the house, considering they had nothing in
the world to show me, were kind and patient under the intrusion, and
answered with very polite affirmation my discouraged inquiry if this
were really Tintoretto’s house.

Their conduct was different from that of the present inmates of Titian’s
house, near the Fondamenta Nuove, in a little court at the left of
the church of the Jesuits. These unreasonable persons think it an
intolerable bore that the enlightened traveling public should break in
upon their privacy. They put their heads out of the upper windows, and
assure the strangers that the house is as utterly restored within as
they behold it without (and it _is_ extremely restored), that it merely
occupies the site of the painter’s dwelling, and that there is nothing
whatever to see in it. I never myself had the heart to force an entrance
after these protests; but an acquaintance of the more obdurate sex, whom
I had the honor to accompany thither, once did so, and came out with a
story of rafters of the original Titianic kitchen being still visible in
the new one. After a lapse of two years I revisited the house, and found
that so far from having learned patience by frequent trial, the inmates
had been apparently goaded into madness during the interval. They seemed
to know of our approach by instinct, and thrust their heads out, ready
for protest, before we were near enough to speak. The lazy, frowzy
women, the worthless men, and idle, loafing boys of the neighborhood,
gathered round to witness the encounter; but though repeatedly commanded
to ring (I was again in company with ladies), and try to force the
place, I refused decidedly to do so. The garrison were strengthening
their position by plastering and renewed renovation, and I doubt that by
this time the original rafters are no longer to be seen. A plasterer’s
boy, with a fine sense of humor, stood clapping his trowel on his board,
inside the house, while we debated retreat, and derisively invited us
to enter: _“Suoni pure, O signore! Questa e la famosa casa del gran
pittore, l’immortale Tiziano,--suoni, signore!_” (Ring, by all means,
sir. This is the famous house of the great painter, the immortal Titian.
Ring!) _Da capo_. We retired amid the scorn of the populace. But
indeed I could not blame the inhabitants of Titian’s house; and were
I condemned to live in a place so famous as to attract idle curiosity,
flushed and insolent with travel, I should go to the verge of man-traps
and shot-guns to protect myself.

This house, which is now hemmed in by larger buildings of later date,
had in the painter’s time an incomparably “lovely and delightful
situation.” Standing near the northern boundary of the city, it
looked out over the lagoon,--across the quiet isle of sepulchres, San
Michele,--across the smoking chimneys of the Murano glass-works, and the
bell-towers of her churches,--to the long line of the sea-shore on the
right and to the mainland on the left; and beyond the nearer lagoon
islands and the faintly penciled outlines of Torcello and Burano in
front, to the sublime distance of the Alps, shining in silver and
purple, and resting their snowy heads against the clouds. It had a
pleasant garden of flowers and trees, into which the painter descended
by an open stairway, and in which he is said to have studied the famous
tree in The Death of Peter Martyr. Here he entertained the great and
noble of his day, and here he feasted and made merry with the gentle
sculptor Sansovino, and with their common friend, the rascal-poet
Aretino. The painter’s and the sculptor’s wives knew each other, and
Sansovino’s Paola was often in the house of Cecilia Vecellio; [Footnote:
The wife of Titian’s youth was, according to Ticozzi, named Lucia. It is
in Mutinelli that I find allusion to Cecilia. The author of the _Annali
Urbani_, speaking of the friendship and frequent meetings of Titian and
Sansovino, says,--“Vivevano ... allora ambedue di un amore fatto sacro
dalle leggi divine, essendo moglie di Tiziano una Cecilia.” I would not
advise the reader to place too fond a trust in any thing concerning the
house of Titian. Mutinelli refers to but one house of the painter, while
Ticozzi makes him proprietor of two.] and any one who is wise enough not
to visit the place, can easily think of those ladies there, talking at
an open window that gives upon the pleasant garden, where their husbands
walk up and down together in the purple evening light.

In the palace where Goldoni was born a servant showed me an entirely new
room near the roof, in which he said the great dramatist had composed
his immortal comedies. As I knew, however, that Goldoni had left the
house when a child, I could scarcely believe what the cicerone said,
though I was glad he said it, and that he knew any thing at all of
Goldoni. It is a fine old Gothic palace on a small canal near the Frari,
and on the Calle del Nomboli, just across from a shop of indigestible
pastry. It is known by an inscription, and by the medallion of the
dramatist above the land-door; and there is no harm in looking in at the
court on the ground-floor, where you may be pleased with the picturesque
old stairway, wandering upward I hardly know how high, and adorned with
many little heads of lions.

Several palaces dispute the honor of being Bianca Cappello’s birthplace,
but Mutinelli awards the distinction to the palace at Sant’ Appollinare
near the Ponte Storto. One day a gondolier vaingloriously rowed us to
the water-gate of the edifice through a very narrow, damp, and uncleanly
canal, pretending that there was a beautiful staircase in its court. At
the moment of our arrival, however, Bianca happened to be hanging out
clothes from a window, and shrilly disclaimed the staircase, attributing
this merit to another Palazzo Cappello. We were less pleased with her
appearance here, than with that portrait of her which we saw on another
occasion in the palace of a lady of her name and blood. This lady has
since been married, and the name of Cappello is now extinct.

The Palazzo Mocenigo, in which Byron lived, is galvanized into ghastly
newness by recent repairs, and as it is one of the ugliest palaces on
the Grand Canal, it has less claim than ever upon one’s interest. The
custodian shows people the rooms where the poet wrote, dined, and slept,
and I suppose it was from the hideous basket-balcony over the main door
that one of his mistresses threw herself into the canal. Another of
these interesting relicts is pointed out in the small butter-and-cheese
shop which she keeps in the street leading from Campo Sant’ Angelo to
San Paterinan: she is a fat sinner, long past beauty, bald, and somewhat
melancholy to behold. Indeed, Byron’s memory is not a presence which I
approach with pleasure, and I had most enjoyment in his palace when
I thought of good-natured little Thomas Moore, who once visited his
lordship there. Byron himself hated the recollection of his life in
Venice, and I am sure no one else need like it. But he is become a _cosa
di Venezia_, and you cannot pass his palace without having it pointed
out to you by the gondoliers. Early after my arrival in the city I made
the acquaintance of an old smooth-shaven, smooth-mannered Venetian, who
said he had known Byron, and who told me that he once swam with him from
the Port of San Nicolò to his palace-door. The distance is something
over three miles, but if the swimmers came in with the sea the feat
was not so great as it seems, for the tide is as swift and strong as a
mill-race. I think it would be impossible to make the distance against
the tide.



To make an annual report in September upon the Commercial Transactions
of the port, was an official duty to which I looked forward at Venice
with a vague feeling of injury during a year of almost uninterrupted
tranquillity. It was not because the preparation of the report was an
affair of so great labor that I shrank from it; but because the material
was wanting with which to make a respectable show among my consular
peers in the large and handsomely misprinted volume of Commercial
Relations annually issued by the enterprising Congressional publishers.
It grieved me that upstart ports like Marseilles, Liverpool, and Bremen,
should occupy so much larger space in this important volume than my
beloved Venice; and it was with a feeling of profound mortification that
I used to post my meagre account of a commerce that once was greater
than all the rest of the world’s together. I sometimes desperately eked
out the material furnished me in the statistics of the Venetian Chamber
of Commerce by an agricultural essay on the disease of the grapes and
its cure, or by a few wretched figures representative of a very slender
mining interest in the province. But at last I determined to end these
displeasures, and to make such researches into the history of her
Commerce as should furnish me forth material for a report worthy of the
high place Venice held in my reverence.

Indeed, it seemed to be by a sort of anachronism that I had ever
mentioned contemporary Venetian Commerce; and I turned with exultation
from the phantom transactions of the present to that solid and
magnificent prosperity of the past, of which the long-enduring
foundations were laid in the earliest Christian times. For the new
cities formed by the fugitives from barbarian invasion of the main-land,
during the fifth century, had hardly settled around a common democratic
government on the islands of the lagoons, when they began to develop
maritime energies and resources; and long before this government was
finally established at Rialto, (the ancient sea-port of Padua,) or
Venice had become the capital of the young Republic, the Veneti had
thriftily begun to turn the wild invaders of the main-land to account,
to traffic with them, and to make treaties of commerce with their
rulers. Theodoric, the king of the Goths, had fixed his capital at
Ravenna, in the sixth century, and would have been glad to introduce
Italian civilization among his people; but this warlike race were not
prepared to practice the useful arts, and although they inhabited one of
the most fruitful parts of Italy, with ample borders of sea, they were
neither sailors nor tillers of the ground. The Venetians supplied them
(at a fine profit, no doubt,) with the salt made in the lagoons, and
with wines brought from Istria. The Goths viewed with especial amazement
their skill in the management of their river-craft, by means of which
the dauntless traders ascended the shallowest streams to penetrate the
main-land, “running on the grass of the meadows, and between the stalks
of the harvest field,”--just as in this day our own western steamers are
known to run in a heavy dew.

The Venetians continued to extend and confirm their commerce with those
helpless and hungry warriors, and were ready also to open a lucrative
trade with the Longobards when they descended into Italy about the year
570. They had, in fact, abetted the Longobards in their war with the
Greek Emperor Justinian, (who had opposed their incursion,) and in
return the barbarians gave them the right to hold great free marts or
fairs on the shores of the lagoons, whither the people resorted from
every part of the Longobard kingdom to buy the salt of the lagoons,
grain from Istria and Dalmatia, and slaves from every country.

The slave-trade, indeed, formed then one of the most lucrative branches
of Venetian commerce, as now it forms the greatest stain upon the annals
of that commerce. The islanders, however, were not alone guilty of this
infamous trade in men; other Italian states made profit of it, and it
may be said to have been all but universal. But the Venetians were the
most deeply involved in it, they pursued it the most unscrupulously,
and they relinquished it the last. The pope forbade and execrated their
commerce, and they sailed from the papal ports with cargoes of slaves
for the infidels in Africa. In spite of the prohibitions of their own
government, they bought Christians of kidnappers throughout Europe, and
purchased the captives of the pirates on the seas, to sell them again to
the Saracens. Nay, being an ingenious people, they turned their honest
penny over and over again: they sold the Christians to the Saracens,
and then for certain sums ransomed them and restored them to their
countries; they sold Saracens to the Christians, and plundered the
infidels in similar transactions of ransom and restoration. It is not
easy to fix the dates of the rise or fall of this slave-trade; but
slavery continued in Venice as late as the fifteenth century, and in
earlier ages was so common that every prosperous person had two or
three slaves. [Footnote: Mutinelli, _Del Costume Veneziano_. The present
sketch of the history of Venetian commerce is based upon facts
chiefly drawn from Mutinelli’s delightful treatise, _Del Commercio dei
Veneziani_.] The corruption of the citizens at this time is properly
attributed in part to the existence of slavery among them; and Mutinelli
goes so far as to declare that the institution impressed permanent
traits on the populace, rendering them idle and indisposed to honest
labor, by degrading labor and making it the office of bondmen.

While this hateful and enormous traffic in man was growing up,
the Venetians enriched themselves by many other more blameless and
legitimate forms of commerce, and gradually gathered into their grasp
that whole trade of the East with Europe which passed through their
hands for so many ages. After the dominion of the Franks was established
in Italy in the eighth century, they began to supply that people, more
luxurious than the Lombards, with the costly stuffs, the rich jewelry,
and the perfumes of Byzantium; and held a great annual fair at the
imperial city of Pavia, where they sold the Franks the manufactures of
the polished and effeminate Greeks, and whence in return they carried
back to the East the grain, wine, wool, iron, lumber, and excellent
armor of Lombardy.

From the time when they had assisted the Longobards against the Greeks,
the Venetians found it to their interest to cultivate the friendship of
the latter, until, in the twelfth century, they mastered the people
so long caressed, and took their capital, under Enrico Dandolo. The
privileges conceded to the wily and thrifty republican traders by the
Greek Emperors, were extraordinary in their extent and value. Otho, the
western Caesar, having succeeded the Franks in the dominion of Italy,
had already absolved the Venetians from the annual tribute paid the
Italian kings for the liberty of traffic, and had declared their
commerce free throughout the Peninsula. In the mean time they had
attacked and beaten the pirates of Dalmatia, and the Greeks now
recognized their rule all over Dalmatia, thus securing to the Republic
every port on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. Then, as they aided
the Greeks to repel the aggressions of the Saracens and Normans, their
commerce was declared free in all the ports of the empire, and they were
allowed to trade without restriction in all the cities, and to build
warehouses and dépôts throughout the dominions of the Greeks, wherever
they chose. The harvest they reaped from the vast field thus opened to
their enterprise, must have more than compensated them for their losses
in the barbarization of the Italian continent by the incessant civil
wars which followed the disruption of the Lombard League, when trade and
industry languished throughout Italy. When the Crusaders had taken the
Holy Land, the king of Jerusalem bestowed upon the Venetians, in return
for important services against the infidel, the same privileges conceded
them by the Greek Emperor; and when, finally, Constantinople fell into
the hands of the Crusaders, (whom they had skillfully diverted from the
reconquest of Palestine to the siege of the Greek metropolis,) nearly
all the Greek islands fell to the share of Venice; and the Latin
emperors, who succeeded the Greeks in dominion, gave her such privileges
as made her complete mistress of the commerce of the Levant.

From this opulent traffic the insatiable enterprise of the Republic
turned, without relinquishing the old, to new gains in the farthest
Orient. Against her trade the exasperated infidel had closed the
Egyptian ports, but she did not scruple to coax the barbarous prince of
the Scythian Tartars, newly descended upon the shores of the Black Sea;
and having secured his friendship, she proceeded, without imparting
her design to her Latin allies at Constantinople, to plant a commercial
colony at the mouth of the Don, where the city of Azof stands. Through
this entrepôt, thenceforward, Venetian energy, with Tartar favor,
directed the entire commerce of Asia with Europe, and incredibly
enriched the Republic. The vastness and importance of such a trade, even
at that day, when the wants of men were far simpler and fewer than now,
could hardly be over-stated; and one nation then monopolized the traffic
which is now free to the whole world. The Venetians bought their wares
at the great marts of Samarcand, and crossed the country of Tartary
in caravans to the shores of the Caspian Sea, where they set sail and
voyaged to the River Volga, which they ascended to the point of its
closest proximity to the Don. Their goods were then transported overland
to the Don, and were again carried by water down to their mercantile
colony at its mouth. Their ships, having free access to the Black Sea,
could, after receiving their cargoes, return direct to Venice. The
products of every country of Asia were carried into Europe by these
dauntless traffickers, who, enlightened and animated by the travels and
discoveries of Matteo, Nicolò, and Marco Polo, penetrated the remotest
regions, and brought away the treasures which the prevalent fears and
superstitions of other nations would have deterred them from seeking,
even if they had possessed the means of access to them.

The partial civilization of the age of chivalry had now reached its
climax, and the class which had felt its refining effects was that
best able to gratify the tastes still unknown to the great mass of the
ignorant and impoverished people. It was a splendid time, and the robber
counts and barons of the continent, newly tamed and Christianized into
knights, spent splendidly, as became magnificent cavaliers serving noble
ladies. The Venetians, who seldom did merely heroic things, who turned
the Crusades to their own account and made money out of the Holy Land,
and whom one always fancies as having a half scorn of the noisy grandeur
of chivalry, were very glad to supply the knights and ladies with the
gorgeous stuffs, precious stones, and costly perfumes of the East; and
they now also began to establish manufactories, and to practice the
industrial arts at home. Their jewelers and workers in precious metals
soon became famous throughout Europe; the glass-works of Murano rose
into celebrity and importance which they have never since lost (for they
still supply the world with beads); and they began to weave stuffs of
gold tissue at Venice, and silks so exquisitely dyed that no cavalier
or dame of perfect fashion was content with any other. Besides this they
gilded leather for lining walls, wove carpets, and wrought miracles of
ornament in wax,--a material that modern taste is apt to disdain,--while
Venetian candles in chandeliers of Venetian glass lighted up the palaces
of the whole civilized world.

The private enterprise of citizens was in every way protected and
encouraged by the State, which did not, however, fail to make due and
just profit out of it. The ships of the merchants always sailed to
and from Venice in fleets, at stated seasons, seven fleets departing
annually,--one for the Greek dominions, a second for Azof, a third for
Trebizond, a fourth for Cyprus, a fifth for Armenia, a sixth for Spain,
France, the Low Countries, and England, and a seventh for Africa. Each
squadron of traders was accompanied and guarded from attacks of corsairs
and other enemies, by a certain number of the state galleys, let
severally to the highest bidders for the voyage, at a price never less
than about five hundred dollars of our money. The galleys were all
manned and armed by the State, and the crew of each amounted to three
hundred persons; including a captain, four supercargoes, eight pilots,
two carpenters, two calkers, a master of the oars, fifty cross-bowmen,
three drummers, and two hundred rowers. The State also appointed a
commandant of the whole squadron, with absolute authority to hear
complaints, decide controversies, and punish offences.

While the Republic was thus careful in the protection and discipline of
its citizens in their commerce upon the seas, it was no less zealous for
their security and its own dignity in their traffic with the continent
of Europe. In that rude day, neither the life nor the property of the
merchant who visited the ultramontane countries was safe; for the sorry
device which he practiced, of taking with him a train of apes, buffoons,
dancers, and singers, in order to divert his ferocious patrons from
robbery and murder, was not always successful. The Venetians, therefore,
were forbidden by the State to trade in those parts; and the Bohemians,
Germans, and Hungarians, who wished to buy their wares, were obliged to
come to the lagoons and buy them at the great marts which were held in
different parts of the city, and on the neighboring main-land. A triple
purpose was thus served,--the Venetian merchants were protected in their
lives and goods, the national honor was saved from insult, and many an
honest zecchino was turned by the innkeepers and others who lodged and
entertained the customers of the merchants.

Five of these great fairs were held every week, the chief market being
at Rialto; and the transactions in trade were carefully supervised by
the servants of the State. Among the magistracies especially appointed
for the orderly conduct of the foreign and domestic commerce were the
so-called Mercantile Consuls (_Ufficio dei Consoli dei Mercanti_), whose
special duty it was to see that the traffic of the nation received
no hurt from the schemes of any citizen or foreigner, and to punish
offenses of this kind with banishment and even graver penalties. They
measured every ship about to depart, to learn if her cargo exceeded the
lawful amount; they guarded creditors against debtors and protected
poor debtors against the rapacity of creditors, and they punished thefts
sustained by the merchants. It is curious to find contemporary with
this beneficent magistracy, a charge of equal dignity exercised by
the College of Reprisals. A citizen offended in his person or property
abroad, demanded justice of the government of the country in which the
offense was committed. If the demand was refused, it was repeated by the
Republic; if still refused, then the Republic, although at peace with
the nation from which the offense came, seized any citizen of that
country whom it could find, and, through its College of Reprisals,
spoiled him of sufficient property to pay the damage done to its
citizen. Finally, besides several other magistracies resident in Venice,
the Republic appointed Consuls in its colonies and some foreign ports,
to superintend the traffic of its citizens, and to compose their
controversies. The Consuls were paid out of duties levied on the
merchandise; they were usually nobles, and acted with the advice and
consent of twelve other Venetian nobles or merchants.

At this time, and, indeed, throughout its existence, the great lucrative
monopoly of the Republic was the salt manufactured in the lagoons, and
forced into every market, at rates that no other salt could compete
with. Wherever alien enterprise attempted rivalry, it was instantly
discouraged by Venice. There were troublesome salt mines, for example,
in Croatia; and in 1381 the Republic caused them to be closed by paying
the King of Hungary an annual pension of seven thousand crowns of gold.
The exact income of the State, however, from the monopoly of salt, or
from the various imposts and duties levied upon merchandise, it is now
difficult to know, and it is impossible to compute accurately the value
or extent of Venetian commerce at any one time. It reached the acme of
its prosperity under Tommaso Mocenigo, who was Doge from 1414 to
1423. There were then three thousand and three hundred vessels of the
mercantile marine, giving employment to thirty-three thousand seamen,
and netting to their owners a profit of forty per cent, on the capital
invested. How great has been the decline of this trade may be understood
from the fact that in 1863 it amounted, according to the careful
statistics of the Chamber of Commerce, to only $60,229,740, and that the
number of vessels now owned in Venice is one hundred and fifty. As the
total tonnage of these is but 26,000, it may be inferred that they are
small craft, and in fact they are nearly all coasting vessels. They no
longer bring to Venice the drugs and spices and silks of Samarcand, or
carry her own rare manufactures to the ports of western Europe; but they
sail to and from her canals with humble freights of grain, lumber, and
hemp. Almost as many Greek as Venetian ships now visit the old queen,
who once levied a tax upon every foreign vessel in her Adriatic; and the
shipping from the cities of the kingdom of Italy exceeds hers by ninety
sail, while the tonnage of Great Britain is vastly greater. Her commerce
has not only wasted to the shadow of its former magnitude, but it has
also almost entirely lost its distinctive character. Glass of Murano is
still exported to a value of about two millions of dollars annually; but
in this industry, as in nearly all others of the lagoons, there is
an annual decline. The trade of the port falls off from one to three
millions of dollars yearly, and the manufacturing interests of the
province have dwindled in the same proportion. So far as silk is
concerned, there has been an immediate cause for the decrease in the
disease which has afflicted the cocoons for several years past. Wine and
oil are at present articles of import solely,--the former because of a
malady of the grape, the latter because of negligent cultivation of the

A considerable number of persons are still employed in the manufacture
of objects of taste and ornament; and in the Ruga Vecchia at Rialto they
yet make the famous Venetian gold chain, which few visitors to the city
can have failed to notice hanging in strands and wound upon spools, in
the shop windows of the Old Procuratie and the Bridge of Rialto. It is
wrought of all degrees of fineness, and is always so flexile that it
may be folded and wound in any shape. It is now no longer made in great
quantity, and is chiefly worn by contadine (as a safe investment of
their ready money), [Footnote: Certain foreigners living in Venice were
one day astonished to find their maid-servant in possession of a mass of
this chain, and thought it their business to reprove her extravagance.
“Signori,” she explained paradoxically, “if I keep my money, I spend
it; if I buy this chain, it is always money (_è sempre soldi_).”] and
old-fashioned people of the city, who display the finer sort in
skeins or strands. At Chioggia, I remember to have seen a babe at its
christening in church literally manacled and shackled with Venetian
chain; and the little girl who came to us one day, to show us the
splendors in which she had appeared at a _disputa_ (examination of
children in doctrine), was loaded with it. Formerly, in the luxurious
days of the Republic, it is said the chain was made as fine as
sewing-silk, and worn embroidered on Genoa velvet by the patrician
dames. It had then a cruel interest from the fact that its manufacture,
after a time, cost the artisans their eyesight, so nice and subtle was
the work. I could not help noticing that the workmen at the shops in the
Ruga Vecchia still suffer in their eyes, even though the work is much
coarser. I do not hope to describe the chain, except by saying that the
links are horseshoe and oval shaped, and are connected by twos,--an
oval being welded crosswise into a horseshoe, and so on, each two being
linked loosely into the next.

An infinitely more important art, in which Venice was distinguished a
thousand years ago, has recently been revived there by Signor Salviati,
an enthusiast in mosaic painting. His establishment is on the Grand
Canal, not far from the Academy, and you might go by the old palace
quite unsuspicious of the ancient art stirring with new life in its
breast. “A. Salviati, Avvocato,” is the legend of the bell-pull, and you
do not by any means take this legal style for that of the restorer of a
neglected art, and a possessor of forgotten secrets in gilded glass and
“smalts,” as they term the small delicate rods of vitreous substance,
with which the wonders of the art are achieved. But inside of the palace
are some two hundred artisans at work,--cutting the smalts and glass
into the minute fragments of which the mosaics are made, grinding
and smoothing these fragments, polishing the completed works, and
reproducing, with incredible patience and skill, the lights and shadows
of the pictures to be copied.

You first enter the rooms of those whose talent distinguishes them as
artists, and in whose work all the wonderful neatness and finish and
long-suffering toil of the Byzantines are visible, as well as original
life and inspiration alike impossible and profane to the elder
mosaicists. Each artist has at hand a great variety of the slender stems
of smalts already mentioned, and breaking these into minute fragments
as he proceeds, he inserts them in the bed of cement prepared to receive
his picture, and thus counterfeits in enduring mineral the perishable
work of the painter.

In other rooms artisans are at work upon various tasks of
_marqueterie_,--table-tops, album-covers, paper-weights, brooches, pins
and the like,--and in others they are sawing the smalts and glass into
strips, and grinding the edges. Passing through yet another room, where
the finished mosaic-works--of course not the pictorial mosaics--are
polished by machinery, we enter the store-room, where the crowded
shelves display blocks of smalts and glass of endless variety of
color. By far the greater number of these colors are discoveries or
improvements of the venerable mosaicist Lorenzo Radi, who has found
again the Byzantine secrets of counterfeiting, in vitreous paste,
aventurine (gold stone), onyx, chalcedony, malachite, and other natural
stones, and who has been praised by the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice
for producing mosaics even more durable in tint and workmanship than
those of the Byzantine artists.

In an upper story of the palace a room is set apart for the exhibition
of the many beautiful and costly things which the art of the
establishment produces. Here, besides pictures in mosaic, there are
cunningly inlaid tables and cabinets, caskets, rich vases of chalcedony
mounted in silver, and delicately wrought jewelry, while the floor is
covered with a mosaic pavement ordered for the Viceroy of Egypt. There
are here, moreover, to be seen the designs furnished by the Crown
Princess of Prussia for the mosaics of the Queen’s Chapel at Windsor.
These, like all other pictures and decorations in mosaic, are completed
in the establishment on the Grand Canal, and are afterward put up as
wholes in the places intended for them.

In Venice nothing in decay is strange. But it is startling to find her
in her old age nourishing into fresh life an art that, after feebly
preserving the memory of painting for so many centuries, had decorated
her prime only with the glories of its decline;--for Kugler ascribes the
completion of the mosaics of the church of St. Cyprian in Murano to
the year 882, and the earliest mosaics of St. Mark’s to the tenth or
eleventh centuries, when the Greek Church had already laid her ascetic
hand on Byzantine art, and fixed its conventional forms, paralyzed its
motives, and forbidden its inspirations. I think, however, one would
look about him in vain for other evidences of a returning prosperity in
the lagoons. The old prosperity of Venice, was based upon her monopoly
of the most lucrative traffic in the world, as we have already
seen,--upon her exclusive privileges in foreign countries, upon the
enlightened zeal of her government, and upon men’s imperfect knowledge
of geography, and the barbarism of the rest of Europe, as well as upon
the indefatigable industry and intelligent enterprise of her citizens.
America was still undiscovered; the overland route to India was the only
one known; the people of the continent outside of Italy were unthrifty
serfs, ruled and ruined by unthrifty lords. The whole world’s ignorance,
pride, and sloth were Venetian gain; and the religious superstitions
of the day, which, gross as they were, embodied perhaps its noblest
and most hopeful sentiment, were a source of incalculable profit to
the sharp-witted mistress of the Adriatic. It was the age of penances,
pilgrimages, and relic-hunting, and the wealth which she wrung from the
devotion of others was exceedingly great. Her ships carried the pilgrims
to and from the Holy Land; her adventurers ransacked Palestine and
the whole Orient for the bones and memorials of the saints; and her
merchants sold the precious relics throughout Europe at an immense
advance upon first cost.

But the foundations of this prosperity were at last tapped by the tide
of wealth which poured into Venice from every quarter of the world. Her
citizens brought back the vices as well as the luxuries of the debauched
Orient, and the city became that seat of splendid idleness and proud
corruption which it continued till the Republic fell. It is needless
here to rehearse the story of her magnificence and decay. At the time
when the hardy, hungry people of other nations were opening paths to
prosperity by land and sea, the Venetians, gorged with the spoils of
ages, relinquished their old habits of daring enterprise, and dropped
back into luxury and indolence. Their incessant wars with the Genoese
began, and though they signally defeated the rival Republic in battle,
Genoa finally excelled in commerce. A Greek prince had arisen to dispute
the sovereignty of the Latin Emperors, whom the Venetians had helped
to place upon the Byzantine throne; the Genoese, seeing the favorable
fortunes of the Greek, threw the influence of their arms and intrigues
in his favor, and the Latins were expelled from Constantinople in 1271.
The new Greek Emperor had promised to give the sole navigation of the
Black Sea to his allies, together with the church and palaces possessed
by the Venetians in his capital, and he bestowed also upon the Genoese
the city of Smyrna. It does not seem that he fulfilled literally all his
promises, for the Venetians still continued to sail to and from their
colony of Tana, at the head of the Sea of Azof, though it is certain
that they had no longer the sovereignty of those waters; and the Genoese
now planted on the shores of the Black Sea three large and important
colonies to serve as entrepôts for the trade taken from their rivals.
The oriental traffic of the latter was maintained through Tana, however,
for nearly two centuries later, when, in 1410, the Mongol Tartars,
under Tamerlane, fell upon the devoted colony, took, sacked, burnt,
and utterly destroyed it. This was the first terrible blow to the
most magnificent commerce which the world had ever seen, and which had
endured for ages. No wonder that, on the day of Tana’s fall, terrible
portents of woe were seen at Venice,--that meteors appeared, that demons
rode the air, that the winds and waters rose and blew down houses and
swallowed ships! A thousand persons are said to have perished in the
calamities which commemorated a stroke so mortally disastrous to the
national grandeur. After that the Venetians humbly divided with their
ancient foes the possession and maintenance of the Genoese colony of
Caffa, and continued, with greatly diminished glory, their traffic
in the Black Sea; till the Turks having taken Constantinople, and the
Greeks having acquired under their alien masters a zeal for commerce
unknown to them during the times of their native princes, the Venetians
were finally, on the first pretext of war, expelled from those waters in
which they had latterly maintained themselves only by payment of heavy
tribute to the Turks.

In the mean time the industrial arts, in which Venice had heretofore
excelled, began to be practiced elsewhere, and the Florentines and
the English took that lead in the manufactures of the world, which the
latter still retain. The league of the Hanseatic cities was established
and rose daily in importance. At London, at Bruges, at Bergen, and
Novogorod banks were opened under the protection and special favor of
the Hanseatic League; its ships were preferred to any other, and the
tide of commerce setting northward, the cities of the League persecuted
the foreigners who would have traded in their ports. On the
west, Barcelona began to dispute the preëminence of Venice in the
Mediterranean, and Spanish salt was brought to Italy itself and sold
by the enterprising Catalonians. Their corsairs vexed Venetian commerce
everywhere; and in that day, as in our own, private English enterprise
was employed in piratical depredations on the traffic of a friendly

The Portuguese also began to extend their commerce, once so important,
and catching the rage for discovery then prevalent, infested every sea
in search of unknown land. One of their navigators, sailing by a chart
which a monk named Fra Mauro, in his convent on the island of San
Michele, had put together from the stories of travelers, and his own
guesses at geography, discovered the Cape of Good Hope, and the trade
of India with Europe was turned in that direction, and the old over-land
traffic perished. The Venetian monopoly of this traffic had long been
gone; had its recovery been possible, it would now have been useless to
the declining prosperity of the Republic.

It remained for Christopher Columbus, born of that Genoese nation which
had hated the Venetians so long and so bitterly, to make the discovery
of America, and thus to give the death-blow to the supremacy of Venice.
While all these discoveries were taking place, the old queen of the seas
had been weighed down with many and unequal wars. Her naval power
had been everywhere crippled; her revenues had been reduced; her
possessions, one after one, had been lopped away; and at the time
Columbus was on his way to America half Europe, united in the League of
Cambray, was attempting to crush the Republic of Venice.

The whole world was now changed. Commerce sought new channels; fortune
smiled on other nations. How Venice dragged onward from the end of
her commercial greatness, and tottered with a delusive splendor to her
political death, is surely one of the saddest of stories if not the
sternest of lessons.



The national character of the Venetians was so largely influenced by the
display and dissipation of the frequent festivals of the Republic, that
it cannot be fairly estimated without taking them into consideration,
nor can the disuse of these holidays (of which I have heretofore spoken)
be appreciated in all its import, without particular allusion to their
number and nature. They formed part of the aristocratic polity of the
old commonwealth, which substituted popular indulgence for popular
liberty, and gave the people costly pleasures in return for the
priceless rights of which they had been robbed, set up national pride in
the place of patriotism, and was as well satisfied with a drunken joy in
its subjects as if they had possessed a true content.

Full notice of these holidays would be history [Footnote: “Siccome,”
 says the editor of Giustina Renier-Michiel’s _Origine delle Feste
Veneziane_,--“Siccome l’illustre Autrice ha voluto applicare al suo
lavoro il modesto titolo di _Origins delle Feste Veneziane_, e siccome
questo potrebbe porgere un’ idea assai diversa dell’ opera a chi non ne
ha alcuna cognizione, da quello che è sostanzialmente, si espone questo
Epitome, perchè ognun regga almeno in parte, che quest’ opera sarebbe
del titolo di _storia_ condegna, giacchè essa non è che una costante
descrizione degli avvenimenti più importanti e luminosi della Repubblica
di Venezia.” The work in question is one of much research and small
philosophy, like most books which Venetians have written upon Venice;
but it has admirably served my purpose, and I am indebted to it for most
of the information contained in this chapter.] of Venice, for each one
had its origin in some great event of her existence, and they were so
numerous as to commemorate nearly every notable incident in her annals.
Though, as has been before observed, they had nearly all a general
religious character, the Church, as usual in Venice, only seemed to
direct the ceremonies in its own honor, while it really ministered
to the political glory of the oligarchy, which knew how to manage its
priests as well as its prince and people. Nay, it happened in one case,
at least, that a religious anniversary was selected by the Republic
as the day on which to put to shame before the populace certain of the
highest and reverendest dignitaries of the Church. In 1162, Ulrich, the
Patriarch of Aquileja, seized, by a treacherous stratagem, the city of
Grado, then subject to Venice. The Venetians immediately besieged and
took the city, with the patriarch and twelve of his canons in it, and
carried them prisoners to the lagoons. The turbulent patriarchs of
Aquileja had long been disturbers of the Republic’s dominion, and
the people now determined to make an end of these displeasures. They
refused, therefore, to release the patriarch, except on condition that
he should bind himself to send them annually a bull and twelve fat hogs.
It is not known what meaning the patriarch attached to this singular
ceremony; but with the Venetians the bull was typical of himself,
and the swine of his canons, and they yearly suffered death in these
animals, which were slaughtered during Shrovetide in the Piazza San
Marco amid a great concourse of the people, in the presence of the
Doge and Signory. The locksmiths, and other workers in iron, had
distinguished themselves in the recapture of Grado, and to their guild
was allotted the honor of putting to death the bull and swine. Great art
was shown in striking off the bull’s head at one blow, without suffering
the sword to touch the ground after passing through the animal’s neck;
the swine were slain with lances. Athletic games among the people
succeeded, and the Doge and his Senators attacked and destroyed, with
staves, several lightly built wooden castles, to symbolize the abasement
of the feudal power before the Republic. As the centuries advanced this
part of the ceremony, together with the slaughter of the swine, was
disused; in which fact Mr. Ruskin sees evidence of a corrupt disdain of
simple and healthy allegory on the part of the proud doges, but in which
I think most people will discern only a natural wish to discontinue in
more civilized times a puerile barbarity. Mr. Ruskin himself finds
no evidence of “state pride” in the abolition of the slaughter of the
swine. The festival was very popular, and continued a long time, though
I believe not till the fall of the Republic.

Another tribute, equally humiliating to those who paid it, was imposed
upon the Paduans for an insult offered to St. Mark, and gave occasion
for a national holiday, some fifty years after the Patriarch of Aquileja
began atonement for his outrage. In the year 1214, the citizens of
Treviso made an entertainment to which they invited the noble youth of
the surrounding cities. In the chief piazza of the town a castle of wood
exquisitely decorated was held against all comers by a garrison of the
fairest Trevisan damsels. The weapons of defense were flowers, fruits,
bonbons, and the bright eyes of the besieged; while the missiles of
attack were much the same, with whatever added virtue might lie in
tender prayers and sugared supplications. Padua, Vicenza, Bassano, and
Venice sent their gallantest youths, under their municipal banners, to
take part in this famous enterprise; and the attack was carried on by
the leagued forces with great vigor, but with no effect on the Castle
of Love, as it was called, till the Venetians made a breach at a weak
point. These young men were better skilled in the arts of war than their
allies; they were richer, and had come to Treviso decked in the spoils
of the recent sack of Constantinople, and at the moment they neared
the castle it is reported that they corrupted the besieged by throwing
handfuls of gold into the tower. Whether this be true or not, it is
certain that the conduct of the Venetians in some manner roused the
Paduans to insult, and that the hot youths came to blows. In an instant
the standard of St. Mark was thrown down and trampled under the feet of
the furious Paduans; blood flowed, and the indignant Trevisans drove the
combatants out of their city. The spark of war spreading to the rival
cities, the Paduans were soon worsted, and three hundred of their number
were made prisoners. These they would willingly have ransomed at any
price, but their enemies would not release them except on the payment of
two white pullets for each warrior. The shameful ransom was paid in the
Piazza, to the inextinguishable delight of the Venetians, who, never
wanting in sharp and biting wit, abandoned themselves to sarcastic
exultation. They demanded that the Paduans should, like the patriarch,
repeat the tribute annually; but the prudent Doge Ziani judged the
single humiliation sufficient, and refused to establish a yearly
celebration of the feast.

One of the most famous occasional festivals of Venice is described by
Petrarch in a Latin letter to his friend Pietro Bolognese. It was in
celebration of the reduction of the Greeks of Candia, an island which
in 1361 had recently been ceded to the Republic. The Candiotes rose in
general rebellion, but were so promptly subdued that the news of the
outbreak scarcely anticipated the announcement of its suppression in
Venice. Petrarch was at this time the guest of the Republic, and from
his seat at the right of the Doge on the gallery of St. Mark’s Church,
in front of the bronze horses, he witnessed the chivalric shows given
in the Piazza below, which was then unpaved, and admirably adapted for
equestrian feats of arms. It is curious to read the poet’s account of
these in a city where there is now no four-footed beast larger than a
dog. But in the age of chivalry even the Venetians were mounted, and
rode up and down their narrow streets, and jousted in their great

Speaking of twenty-four noble and handsome youths, whose feats formed
a chief part of a show of which he “does not know if in the whole world
there has been seen the equal,” Petrarch says: “It was a gentle sight
to see so many youths decked in purple and gold, as they ruled with
the rein and urged with the spur their coursers, moving in glittering
harness, with iron-shod feet which scarcely seemed to touch the ground.”
 And it must have been a noble sight, indeed, to behold all this before
the “golden façade of the temple,” in a place so packed with spectators
“that a grain of barley could not have fallen to the ground. The great
piazza, the church itself, the towers, the roofs, the arcades, the
windows, all were--I will not say full, but running over, walled
and paved with people.” At the right of the church was built a great
platform, on which sat “four hundred honestest gentlewomen, chosen
from the flower of the nobility, and distinguished in their dress and
bearing, who, amid the continual homage offered them morning, noon, and
night, presented the image of a celestial congress.” Some noblemen, come
hither by chance, “from the part of Britain, comrades and kinsmen of
their King, were present,” and attracted the notice of the poet. The
feasts lasted many days, but on the third day Petrarch excused himself
to the Doge, pleading, he says, his “ordinary occupations, already known
to all.”

Among remoter feasts in honor of national triumphs, was one on the Day
of the Annunciation, commemorative of the removal of the capital of the
Venetian isles to Rialto from Malamocco, after King Pepin had burnt the
latter city, and when, advancing on Venice, he was met in the lagoons
and beaten by the islanders and the tides: these by their recession
stranding his boats in the mud, and those falling upon his helpless host
with the fury of an insulted and imperiled people. The Doge annually
assisted at mass in St. Mark’s in honor of the victory, but not long
afterward the celebration of it ceased, as did that of a precisely
similar defeat of the Hungarians, who had just descended from Asia into
Europe. In 1339 there were great rejoicings in the Piazza for the peace
with Mastino della Scala, who, beaten by the Republic, ceded his city of
Treviso to her.

Doubtless the most splendid of all the occasional festivals was that
held for the Venetian share of the great Christian victory at Lepanto
over the Turks. All orders of the State took part in it; but the most
remarkable feature of the celebration was the roofing of the Merceria,
all the way from St. Mark’s to Rialto, with fine blue cloth, studded
with golden stars to represent the firmament, as the shopkeepers
imagined it. The pictures of the famous painters of that day, Titian,
Tintoretto, Palma, and the rest, were exposed under this canopy, at the
end near Rialto. Later, the Venetian victories over the Turks at the
Dardanelles were celebrated by a regatta, in 1658; and Morosini’s
brilliant reconquest of the Morea, in 1688, was the occasion of other
magnificent shows.

The whole world has now adopted, with various modifications, the
picturesque and exciting pastime of the regatta, which, according to
Mutinelli, [Footnote: _Annali Urbani di Venezia_.] originated among the
lagoons at a very early period, from a peculiar feature in the military
discipline of the Republic. A target for practice with the bow and
cross-bow was set up every week on the beach at the Lido, and nobles and
plebeians rowed thither in barges of thirty oars, vying with each other
in the speed and skill with which the boats were driven. To divert
the popular discontent that followed the Serrar del Consiglio and the
suppression of Bajamonte Tiepolo’s conspiracy early in the fourteenth
century, the proficiency arising from this rivalry was turned to
account, and the spectacle of the regatta was instituted. Agreeably,
however, to the aristocratic spirit of the newly established oligarchy,
the patricians withdrew from the lists, and the regatta became the
affair exclusively of the gondoliers. In other Italian cities, where
horse and donkey races were the favorite amusement, the riders were of
both sexes; and now at Venice women also entered into the rivalry of the
regatta. But in gallant deference to their weakness, they were permitted
to begin the course at the mouth of the Grand Canal before the Doganna
di Mare, while the men were obliged to start from the Public Gardens.
They followed the Grand Canal to its opposite extremity, beyond the
present railway station, and there doubling a pole planted in the water
near the Ponte della Croce, returned to the common goal before the
Palazzo Foscari. Here was erected an ornate scaffolding to which the
different prizes were attached. The first boat carried off a red banner;
the next received a green flag; the third, a blue; and the fourth, a
yellow one. With each of these was given a purse, and with the last was
added, by way of gibe, a live pig, a picture of which was painted on the
yellow banner. Every regatta included five courses, in which single and
double oared boats, and single and double oared gondolas successively
competed,--the fifth contest being that in which the women participated
with two-oared boats. Four prizes like those described were awarded to
the winners in each course.

The regatta was celebrated with all the pomp which the superb city could
assume. As soon as the government announced that it was to take place,
the preparations of the champions began. “From that time the gondolier
ceased to be a servant; he became almost an adoptive son;” [Footnote:
_Feste Veneziane_.] his master giving him every possible assistance and
encouragement in the daily exercises by which he trained himself for the
contest, and his parish priest visiting him in his own house, to bless
his person, his boat, and the image of the Madonna or other saint
attached to the gondola. When the great day arrived the Canalazzo
swarmed with boats of every kind. “All the trades and callings,” says
Giustina Renier-Michiel, [Footnote: _Feste Veneziane_] with that pride
in the Venetian past which does not always pass from verbosity to
eloquence, “had each its boats appropriately mounted and adorned; and
private societies filled an hundred more. The chief families among the
nobility appeared in their boats, on which they had lavished their taste
and wealth.” The rowers were dressed with the most profuse and
elaborate luxury, and the barges were made to represent historical and
mythological conceptions. “To this end the builders employed carving and
sculpture, together with all manner of costly stuffs of silk and velvet,
gorgeous fringes and tassels of silver and gold, flowers, fruits,
shrubs, mirrors, furs, and plumage of rare birds.... Young patricians,
in fleet and narrow craft, propelled by swift rowers, preceded the
champions and cleared the way for them, obliging the spectators to
withdraw on either side.... They knelt on sumptuous cushions in the
prows of their gondolas, cross-bow in hand, and launched little pellets
of plaster at the directors of such obstinate boats as failed to obey
their orders to retire....

“To augment the brilliancy of the regatta the nature of the place
concurred. Let us imagine that superb canal, flanked on either side by
a long line of edifices of every sort; with great numbers of marble
palaces,--nearly all of noble and majestic structure, some admirable
for an antique and Gothic taste, some for the richest Greek and Roman
architecture,--their windows and balconies decked with damasks, stuffs
of the Levant, tapestries, and velvets, the vivid colors of which were
animated still more by borders and fringes of gold, and on which leaned
beautiful women richly dressed and wearing tremulous and glittering
jewels in their hair. Wherever the eye turned, it beheld a vast
multitude at doorways, on the rivas, and even on the roofs. Some of the
spectators occupied scaffoldings erected at favorable points along the
sides of the canal; and the patrician ladies did not disdain to leave
their palaces, and, entering their gondolas, lose themselves among the
infinite number of the boats....

“The cannons give the signal of departure. The boats dart over the
water with the rapidity of lightning.... They advance and fall behind
alternately. One champion who seems to yield the way to a rival suddenly
leaves him in the rear. The shouts of his friends and kinsmen hail his
advantage, while others already passing him, force him to redouble his
efforts. Some weaker ones succumb midway, exhausted.... They withdraw,
and the kindly Venetian populace will not aggravate their shame with
jeers; the spectators glance at them compassionately, and turn again to
those still in the lists. Here and there they encourage them by
waving handkerchiefs, and the women toss their shawls in the air. Each
patrician following close upon his gondolier’s boat, incites him with
his voice, salutes him by name, and flatters his pride and spirit....
The water foams under the repeated strokes of the oars; it leaps up in
spray and falls in showers on the backs of the rowers already dripping
with their own sweat.... At last behold the dauntless mortal who seizes
the red banner! His rival had almost clutched it, but one mighty stroke
of the oar gave him the victory.... The air reverberates with a clapping
of hands so loud that at the remotest point on the canal the moment of
triumph is known. The victors plant on their agile boat the conquered
flag, and instead of thinking to rest their weary arms, take up the oars
again and retrace their course to receive congratulations and applause.”

The regattas were by no means of frequent occurrence, for only forty-one
took place during some five centuries. The first was given in 1315,
and the last in 1857, in honor of the luckless Archduke Maximilian’s
marriage with Princess Charlotte of Belgium. The most sumptuous and
magnificent regatta of all was that given to the city in the year 1686,
by Duke Ernest of Brunswick. This excellent prince having sold a great
part of his subjects to the Republic for use in its wars against
the Turk, generously spent their price in the costly and edifying
entertainments of which Venice had already become the scene. The
Judgment of Paris, and the Triumph of the Marine Goddesses had been
represented at his expense on the Grand Canal, with great acceptance.
And now the Triumph of Neptune formed a principal feature in the
gayeties of his regatta. Nearly the whole of the salt-water mythology
was employed in the ceremony. An immense wooden whale supporting a
structure of dolphins and Tritons, surmounted by a statue of Neptune,
and drawn by sea-horses, moved from the Piazzetta to the Palazzo
Foscari, where numbers of Sirens sported about in every direction till
the Regatta began. The whole company of the deities, very splendidly
arrayed, then joined them as spectators, and behaved in the manner
affected by gods and goddesses on these occasions. Mutinelli [Footnote:
_Annali Urbani._] recounts the story with many sighs and sneers and
great exactness; but it is not interesting. The miraculous recovery of
the body of St. Mark, in 1094, after it had been lost for nearly two
centuries, created a festive anniversary which was celebrated for a
while with great religious pomp; but the rejoicings were not separately
continued in after years. The festival was consolidated (if one may
so speak) with two others in honor of the same saint, and the triple
occasions were commemorated by a single holiday. The holidays annually
distinguished by civil or ecclesiastical displays were twenty-five in
number, of which only eleven were of religious origin, though all were
of partly religious observance. One of the most curious and interesting
of the former was of the earliest date, and was continued till the last
years of the Republic. In 596 Narses, the general of the Greek Emperor,
was furnished by the Venetians with means of transport by sea from
Aquieja to Ravenna for the army which he was leading against the
Ostrogoths; and he made a vow that if successful in his campaign, he
would requite their generosity by erecting two churches in Venice.
Accordingly, when he had beaten the Ostrogoths, he caused two votive
churches to be built,--one to St. Theodore, on the site of the present
St. Mark’s Church, and another to San Geminiano, on the opposite bank
of the canal which then flowed there. In lapse of time the citizens,
desiring to enlarge their Piazza, removed the church of San Geminiano
back as far as the present Fabbrica Nuova, which Napoleon built on the
site of the demolished temple, between the western ends of the New and
Old Procuratie. The removal was effected without the pope’s leave, which
had been asked, but was refused in these words,--“The Holy Father
cannot sanction the commission of a sacrilege, though he can pardon
it afterwards.” The pontiff, therefore, imposed on the Venetians for
penance that the Doge should pay an annual visit forever to the church.
On the occasion of this visit the parish priest met him at the door,
and offered the holy water to him; and then the Doge, having assisted
at mass, marched with his Signory and the clergy of the church to its
original site, where the clergy demanded that it should be rebuilt, and
the Doge replied with the promise,--“Next year.” A red stone was set
in the pavement to mark the spot where the Doge renewed this
never-fulfilled promise. [Footnote: As the author of the _Feste
Veneziane_ tells this story it is less dramatic and characteristic. The
clergy, she says, reminded the Doge of the occasion of his visit, and
his obligation to renew it the following year, which he promised to do.
I cling to the version in the text, for it seems to me that the Doge’s
perpetual promise to rebuild the church was a return in kind for the
pope’s astute answer to the petition asking him to allow its removal. So
good a thing ought to be history.] The old church was destroyed by fire,
and Sansovino built, in 1506, the temple thrown down by Napoleon to make
room for his palace.

The 31st of January, on which day in 828 the body of St. Mark was
brought from Alexandria to Venice, is still observed, though the
festival has lost all the splendor which it received from civil
intervention. For a thousand years the day was hallowed by a solemn mass
in St. Mark’s, at which the Doge and his Signory assisted.

The chief of the State annually paid a number of festive visits, which
were made the occasion of as many holidays. To the convent of San
Zaccaria he went in commemoration of the visit paid to that retreat by
Pope Benedict III., in 855, when the pontiff was so charmed by the piety
and goodness of the fair nuns, that, after his return to Rome, he sent
them great store of relics and indulgences. It thus became one of the
most popular of the holidays, and the people repaired in great multitude
with their Doge to the convent, on each recurrence of the day, that
they might see the relics and buy the indulgences. The nuns were of the
richest and noblest families of the city, and on the Doge’s first visit,
they presented him with that bonnet which became the symbol of his
sovereignty. It was wrought of pure gold, and set with precious stones
of marvelous great beauty and value; and in order that the State might
never seem forgetful of the munificence which bestowed the gift, the
bonnet was annually taken from the treasury and shown by the Doge
himself to the Sisters of San Zaccaria. The Doge Pietro Tradonico,
to whom the bonnet was given, was killed in a popular tumult on this
holiday, while going to the convent.

There was likewise a vast concourse of people and traffic in indulgences
at the church of Santa Maria della Carita (now the Academy of Fine
Arts), on the anniversary of the day when Pope Alexander III., in 1177,
flying from the Emperor Barbarossa, found refuge in that monastery.
[Footnote: Selvatico and Lazari in their admirable _Guida Artistica e
Storica di Veneza_, say that the pope merely lodged in the monastery on
the day when he signed the treaty of peace with Barbarossa.] He bestowed
great privileges upon it, and the Venetians honored the event to the end
of their national existence.

One of the rare occasions during the year when the Doge appeared
officially in public after nightfall, was on St. Stephen’s Day. He then
repaired at dusk in his gilded barge, with splendid attendance of nobles
and citizens, to the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore, whither, in
1009, the body of St. Stephen was brought from Constantinople. On the
first of May the Doge visited the Convent of the Virgins, (the convent
building now forms part of the Arsenal,) where the abbess presented
him with a bouquet, and graceful and pleasing ceremonies took place in
commemoration of the erection and endowment of the church. The head of
the State also annually assisted at mass in St. Mark’s, to celebrate the
arrival in Venice of St. Isidore’s body, which the Doge Domenico Michiel
brought with him from the East, at the end of twenty-six years’ war
against the infidels; and, finally, after the year 1485, when the
Venetians stole the bones of San Rocco from the Milanese, and deposited
them in the newly finished Scuola di San Rocco, a ducal visit was
annually paid to that edifice.

Two only of the national religious festivals yet survive the
Republic,--that of the church of the Redentore on the Giudecca, and that
of the church of the Salute on the Grand Canal,--both votive churches,
built in commemoration of the city’s deliverances from the pest in 1578
and 1630. In their general features the celebrations of the two holidays
are much alike; but that of the Salute is the less important of the two,
and is more entirely religious in its character. A bridge of boats
is annually thrown across the Canalazzo, and on the day of the
Purification, the people throng to the Virgin’s shrine to express their
gratitude for her favor. This gratitude was so strong immediately after
the cessation of the pest in 1630, that the Senate, while the architects
were preparing their designs for the present church, caused a wooden
one to be built on its site, and consecrated with ceremonies of singular
splendor. On the Festa del Redentore (the third Sunday of July) a bridge
of boats crosses the great canal of the Giudecca, and vast throngs
constantly pass it, day and night. But though the small tradesmen who
deal in fried cakes, and in apples, peaches, pears, and other fruits,
make intolerable uproar behind their booths on the long quay before the
church; though the venders of mulberries (for which the gardens of the
Giudecca are famous) fill the air with their sweet jargoning (for
their cries are like the shrill notes of so many singing-birds); though
thousands of people pace up and down, and come and go upon the bridge,
yet the Festa del Redentore has now none of the old-time gayety it wore
when the Venetians thronged the gardens, and feasted, sang, danced,
and flirted the night away, and at dawn went in their fleets of
many-lanterned boats, covering the lagoon with fairy light, to behold
the sunrise on the Adriatic Sea.

Besides the religious festivals mentioned, there were five banquets
annually given by the State on the several days of St. Mark, St. Vitus,
St. Jerome, and St. Stephen, and the Day of the Ascension, all of which
were attended with religious observances. Good Friday was especially
hallowed by church processions in each of the campos; and St. Martha’s
Day was occasion for junketings on the Giudecca Canal, when a favorite
fish, being in season, was devotionally eaten.

The civil and political holidays which lasted till the fall of the
Republic were eleven. One of the earliest was the anniversary of
the recapture of the Venetian Brides, who were snatched from their
bridegrooms, at the altar of San Pietro di Castello, by Triestine
pirates. The class of citizens most distinguished in the punishment
of the abductors was the trade of carpenters, who lived chiefly in the
parish of Santa Maria Formosa; and when the Doge in his gratitude bade
them demand any reasonable grace, the trade asked that he should pay
their quarter an annual visit. “But if it rains?” said the Doge. “We
will give you a hat to cover you,” answered the carpenters. “And if I am
hungry?” “We will give you to eat and drink.” So when the Doge made his
visit on the day of the Virgin’s Purification, he was given a hat of
gilded straw, a bottle of wine, and loaves of bread. On this occasion
the State bestowed dowers upon twelve young girls among the fairest and
best of Venice (chosen two from each of the six sections of the city),
who marched in procession to the church of Santa Maria Formosa. But as
time passed, the custom lost its simplicity and purity: pretty girls
were said to make eyes at handsome youths in the crowd, and scandals
occurred in public. Twelve wooden figures were then substituted, but the
procession in which they were carried was followed by a disgusted
and hooting populace, and assailed with a shower of turnips.
The festivities, which used to last eight days, with incredible
magnificence, fell into discredit, and were finally abolished during the
war when the Genoese took Chioggia and threatened Venice, under Doria.
This was the famous Festa delle Marie.

In 997 the Venetians beat the Narentines at sea, and annexed all Istria,
as far as Dalmatia, to the Republic. On the day of the Ascension, of
the same year, the Doge, for the first time, celebrated the dominion of
Venice over the Adriatic, though it was not till some two hundred years
later that the Pope Alexander III. blessed the famous espousals, and
confirmed the Republic in the possession of the sea forever. “What,”
 cries Giustina Renier-Michiel, turning to speak of the holiday
thus established, and destined to be the proudest in the Venetian
calendar,--“what shall I say of the greatest of all our solemnities,
that of the Ascension? Alas! I myself saw Frenchmen and Venetians, full
of derision and insult, combine to dismantle the Bucintoro and burn it
for the gold upon it!” [Footnote: That which follows is a translation
of the report given by Cesare Cantù, in his _Grande Illustrazione
del Lombardo-Veneto_, of a conversation with the author of _Feste
Veneziane_. It is not necessary to remind readers of Venetian history
that Renier and Michiel were of the foremost names in the Golden Book.
She who bore them both was born before the fall of the Republic which
she so much loved and lamented, and no doubt felt more than the grief
she expresses for the fate of the last Bucintoro. It was destroyed, as
she describes, in 1796, by the French Republicans and Venetian Democrats
after the abdication of the oligarchy; but a fragment of its mast yet
remains, and is to be seen in the museum of the Arsenal.].... (This
was the nuptial-ship in which the Doge went to wed the sea, and the
patriotic lady tells us concerning the Bucintoro of her day): “It was
in the form of a galley, and two hundred feet long, with two decks.
The first of these was occupied by an hundred and sixty rowers, the
handsomest and strongest of the fleet, who sat four men to each oar, and
there awaited their orders; forty other sailors completed the crew. The
upper deck was divided lengthwise by a partition, pierced with arched
doorways, ornamented with gilded figures, and covered with a roof
supported by caryatides--the whole surmounted by a canopy of crimson
velvet embroidered with gold. Under this were ninety seats, and at the
stern a still richer chamber for the Doge’s throne, over which drooped
the banner of St. Mark. The prow was double-beaked, and the sides of
the vessel were enriched with figures of Justice, Peace, Sea, Land, and
other allegories and ornaments.

“Let me imagine those times--it is the habit of the old. At midday,
having heard mass in the chapel of the Collegio, the Doge descends the
Giant’s Stairs, issues from the Porta della Carta, [Footnote: The gate
of the Ducal Palace which opens upon the Piazzetta next St. Mark’s.] and
passes the booths of the mercers and glass-venders erected for the fair
beginning that evening. He is preceded by eight standard-bearers with
the flags of the Republic,--red, blue, white, and purple,--given by
Alexander III. to the Doge Ziani. Six trumpets of silver, borne by as
many boys, mix their notes with the clangor of the bells of the city.
Behind come the retinues of the ambassadors in sumptuous liveries, and
the fifty Comandadori in their flowing blue robes and red caps; then
follow musicians, and the squires of the Doge in black velvet; then the
guards of the Doge, two chancellors, the secretary of the Pregadi, a
deacon clad in purple and bearing a wax taper, six canons, three parish
priests in their sacerdotal robes, and the Doge’s chaplain dressed
in crimson. The grand chancellor is known by his crimson vesture. Two
squires bear the Doge’s chair and the cushion of cloth of gold. And
the Doge--the representative, and not the master of his country; the
executor, and not the maker of the laws; citizen and prince, revered and
guarded, sovereign of individuals, servant of the State--comes clad in
a long mantle of ermine, cassock of blue, and vest and hose of _tocca
d’oro_ [Footnote: A gauze of gold and silk.] with the golden bonnet on
his head, under the umbrella borne by a squire, and surrounded by the
foreign ambassadors and the papal nuncio, while his drawn sword is
carried by a patrician recently destined for some government of land or
sea, and soon to depart upon his mission. In the rear comes a throng of
personages,--the grand captain of the city, the judges, the three chiefs
of the Forty, the Avogodori, the three chiefs of the Council of Ten,
the three censors, and the sixty of the Senate with the sixty of the
Aggiunta, all in robes of crimson silk.

“On the Bucintoro, each takes the post assigned him, and the prince
ascends the throne. The Admiral of the Arsenal and the Lido stands in
front as pilot; at the helm is the Admiral of Malamacco, and around him
the ship-carpenters of the Arsenal. The Bucintoro, amid redoubled clamor
of bells and roar of cannon, quits the riva and majestically plows the
lagoon, surrounded by innumerable boats of every form and size.

“The Patriarch, who had already sent several vases of flowers to do
courtesy to the company in the Bucintoro, joins them at the island of
Sant’ Elena, and sprinkles their course with holy water. So they reach
the port of Lido, whence they formerly issued out upon the open sea;
but in my time they paused there, turning the stern of the vessel to the
sea. Then the Doge, amid the thunders of the artillery of the fort, took
the ring blessed by the Patriarch,--who now emptied a cup of holy water
into the sea,--and, advancing into a little gallery behind his throne,
threw the ring into the waves, pronouncing the words, _Desponsamus te,
mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii_. Proceeding then to the
church of San Nicoletto, they listened to a solemn mass, and returned to
Venice, where the dignitaries were entertained at a banquet, while
the multitude peacefully dispersed among the labyrinths of the booths
erected for the fair.” [Footnote: One of the sops thrown to the populace
on this occasion, as we learn from Mutinelli, was the admission to the
train of gilded barges following the Bucintoro of a boat bearing
the chief of the Nicolotti, one of the factions into which from time
immemorial the lower classes of Venice had been divided. The distinction
between the two parties seems to have been purely geographical; for
there is no apparent reason why a man should have belonged to the
Castellani except that he lived in the eastern quarter of the city,
or to the Nicolotti, except that he lived in the western quarter. The
government encouraged a rivalry not dangerous to itself, and for a long
time the champions of the two sections met annually and beat each other
with rods. The form of contest was afterwards modified, and became a
struggle for the possession of certain bridges, in which the defeated
were merely thrown into the canals. I often passed the scene of the
fiercest of these curious battles at San Barnaba, where the Ponte de
Pugni is adorned with four feet of stone let into the pavement, and
defying each other from the four corners of the bridge. Finally, even
these contests were given up and the Castellani and Nicolotti spent
their rivalry in marvelous acrobatic feats.] This fair, which was
established as early as 1180, was an industrial exhibition of the
arts and trades peculiar to Venice, and was repeated annually, with
increasing ostentation, till the end, in 1796. Indeed, the feasts of the
Republic at last grew so numerous that it became necessary, as we have
seen before, to make a single holiday pay a double or triple debt of
rejoicing. When the Venetians recovered Chioggia after the terrible war
of 1380, the Senate refused to yield them another _festa_, and merely
ordered that St. Mark’s Day should be thereafter observed with some
added ceremony: there was already one festival commemorative of a
triumph over the Genoese (that of San Giovanni Decollate, on whose day,
in 1358, the Venetians beat the Genoese at Negroponte), and the Senate
declared that this was sufficient. A curious custom, however, on the
Sunday after Ascension, celebrated a remoter victory over the same
enemies, to which it is hard to attach any historic probability. It
is not known exactly when the Genoese in immense force penetrated to
Poveglia (one of the small islands of the lagoons), nor why being there
they stopped to ask the islanders the best way of getting to Venice.
But tradition says that the sly Povegliesi persuaded these silly Genoese
that the best method of navigating the lagoons was by means of rafts,
which they constructed for them, and on which they sent them afloat.
About the time the Venetians came out to meet the armada, the withes
binding the members of the rafts gave way, and the Genoese who were not
drowned in the tides stuck in the mud, and were cut in pieces like so
many melons. No one will be surprised to learn that not a soul of them
escaped, and that only the Povegliesi lived to tell the tale. Special
and considerable privileges were conferred on them for their part in
this exploit, and were annually confirmed by the Doge, when a deputation
of the islanders called on him in his palace, and hugged and kissed the
devoted prince.

People who _will_ sentimentalize over the pigeons of St. Mark’s, may
like to know that they have been settled in the city ever since 877.
After the religious services on Palm Sunday, it was anciently the custom
of the sacristans of St. Mark’s to release doves fettered with fragments
of paper, and thus partly disabled from flight, for the people to
scramble for in the Piazza. The people fatted such of the birds as they
caught, and ate them at Easter, but those pigeons which escaped took
refuge in the roof of the church, where they gradually assumed a certain
sacredness of character, and increased to enormous numbers. They were
fed by provision of the Republic, and being neglected at the time of its
fall, many of them were starved. But they now flourish on a bequest left
by a pious lady for their maintenance, and on the largess of grain
and polenta constantly bestowed by strangers. Besides the holidays
mentioned, the 6th of December was religiously observed in honor of the
taking of Constantinople, the Doge assisting at mass in the ducal chapel
of St. Nicholas. He also annually visited, with his Signory in the state
barges, and with great concourse of people, the church of San Vito
on the 15th of June, in memory of the change of the government from a
democracy to an oligarchy, and of the suppression of Bajamonte Tiepolo’s
conspiracy. On St. Isidore’s Day he went with his Signory, and the
religious confraternities, in torchlight procession, to hear mass at St.
Mark’s in celebration of the failure of Marin Falier’s plot. On the 17th
of January he visited by water the hospital erected for invalid soldiers
and sailors, and thus commemorated the famous defence of Scutari
against the Turks, in 1413. For the peace of 1516, concluded after the
dissolution of the League of Cambray, he went in his barge to the
church of Santa Marina, who had potently exerted her influence for the
preservation of the Republic against allied France, Austria, Spain, and
Rome. On St. Jerome’s Day, when the newly-elected members of the Council
of Ten took their seats, the Doge entertained them with a banquet, and
there were great popular rejoicings over an affair in which the people
had no interest.

It is by a singular caprice of fortune that, while not only all the
Venetian holidays in anywise connected with the glory of the Republic,
but also those which peculiarly signalized her piety and gratitude, have
ceased to be, a festival common to the whole Catholic world should still
be observed in Venice with extraordinary display. On the day of Corpus
Christi there is a superb ecclesiastical procession in the Piazza.

The great splendor of the solemnization is said to date from the times
when Enrico Dandolo and his fellow-Crusaders so far forgot their purpose
of taking Palestine from the infidels as to take Constantinople from the
schismatics. Up to that period the day of Corpus Christi was honored by
a procession from what was then the Cathedral of San Pietro di Castello;
but now all the thirty parishes of the city, with their hundred
churches, have part in the procession, which is of such great length as
to take some two hours in its progress round the Piazza.

Several days before the holiday workmen begin to build, within the Place
of St. Mark, the colonnade through which the procession is to pass; they
roof it with blue cotton cloth, and adorn it with rolls of pasteboard
representing garlands of palm. At last, on the festive morning,
the dwellers on the Grand Canal are drawn to their balconies by the
apparition of boat-loads of facchini, gorgeous in scarlet robes,
and bearing banners, painted candles, and other movable elements of
devotion, with which they pass to the Piazzetta, and thence into St.
Mark’s. They re-appear presently, and, with a guard of Austrian troops
to clear the way before them, begin their march under the canopy of the

When you have seen the Place of St. Mark by night your eye has tasted
its most delicate delight, but then it is the delight given by a
memory only, and it touches you with sadness. You must see the Piazza
to-day,--every window fluttering with rich stuffs and vivid colors; the
three great flag staffs [Footnote: Once bearing the standards of Cyprus,
Candia, and Venice.] hanging their heavy flags; the brilliant square
alive with a holiday population, with resplendent uniforms, with Italian
gesture and movement, and that long glittering procession, bearing
slowly on the august paraphernalia of the Church--you must see all this
before you can enter into the old heart of Venetian magnificence, and
feel its life about you.

To-day, the ancient church of San Pietro di Castello comes first in the
procession, and, with a proud humility, the Basilica San Marco last.
Before each parochial division goes a banner displaying the picture
or distinctive device of its titular saint, under the shadow of which
chants a priest; there are the hosts of the different churches, and
the gorgeous canopies under which they are elevated; then come facchini
dressed in scarlet and bearing the painted candles, or the long
carved and gilded candlesticks; and again facchini delicately robed
in vestments of the purest white linen, with caps of azure, green, and
purple, and shod with sandals or white shoes, carrying other apparatus
of worship. Each banner and candlestick has a fluttering leaf of tinsel
paper attached to it, and the procession makes a soft rustling as
it passes. The matter-of-fact character of the external Church walks
between those symbolists, the candle-bearers,--in the form of persons
who gather the dropping fatness of the candles, and deposit it in a vase
carried for that purpose. Citizens march in the procession with candles;
and there are charity-schools which also take part, and sing in the
harsh, shrill manner, of which I think only little boys who have their
heads closely shorn are capable.

On all this we looked down from a window of the Old Procuratie--of
course with that calm sense of superiority which people are apt to have
in regarding the solemnities of a religion different from their own.
But that did not altogether prevent us from enjoying what was really
beautiful and charming in the scene. I thought most of the priests, very
good and gentle looking,--and in all respects they were much pleasanter
to the eye than the monks of the Carmelite order, who, in shaving their
heads to simulate the Saviour’s crown of thorns, produce a hideous
burlesque of the divine humiliation. Yet many even of these had earnest
and sincere faces, and I could not think so much as I ought, perhaps, of
their idle life, and the fleas in their coarse brown cloaks. I confess,
indeed, I felt rather a sadness than an indignation at all that
self-sacrifice to an end of which I could but dimly see the usefulness.
With some things in this grand spectacle we were wholly charmed, and
doubtless had most delight in the little child who personated John the
Baptist, and who was quite naked, but for a fleece folded about him: he
bore the cross-headed staff in one small hand, and led with the other
a lamb much tied up with blue ribbon. Here and there in the procession
little girls, exquisitely dressed, and gifted by fond mothers with wings
and aureoles, walked, scattering flowers. I likewise greatly relished
the lively holiday air of a company of airy old men, the pensioners of
some charity, who, in their white linen trousers and blue coats, formed
a prominent feature of the display. Far from being puffed up with their
consequence, they gossiped cheerfully with the spectators in the pauses
of the march, and made jests to each other in that light-hearted,
careless way observable in old men taken care of, and with nothing
before them to do worth speaking of but to die. I must own that the
honest facchini who bore the candles were equally affable, and even
freer with their jokes. But in this they formed a fine contrast to here
and there a closely hooded devotee, who, with hidden face and silent
lips, was carrying a taper for religion, and not, like them, for money.
I liked the great good-natured crowd, so orderly and amiable; and I
enjoyed even that old citizen in the procession who, when the Patriarch
gave his blessing, found it inconvenient to kneel, and compromised by
stretching one leg a great way out behind him. These things, indeed,
quite took my mind off of the splendors; and I let the canopy of the
Scuola di San Rocco (worth 40,000 ducats) go by with scarce a glance,
and did not bestow much more attention upon the brilliant liveries of
the Patriarch’s servants,--though the appearance of these ecclesiastical
flunkies is far more impressive than that of any of their secular
brethren. They went gorgeously before the Patriarch, who was surrounded
by the richly dressed clergy of St. Mark’s, and by clouds of incense
rising from the smoking censers. He walked under the canopy in his
cardinal’s robes, and with his eye fixed upon the Host.

All at once the procession halted, and the Patriarch blessed the crowd,
which knelt in a profound silence. Then the military band before him
struck up an air from “Un Ballo in Maschera;” the procession moved on to
the cathedral, and the crowd melted away.

The once-magnificent day of the Ascension the Venetians now honor by
closing all shop-doors behind them and putting all thought of labor
out of their minds, and going forth to enjoy themselves in the mild,
inexplosive fashion which seems to satisfy Italian nature. It is the
same on all the feast-days: then the city sinks into profounder quiet;
only bells are noisy, and where their clangor is so common as in
Venice, it seems at last to make friends with the general stillness, and
disturbs none but people of untranquil minds. We always go to the Piazza
San Marco when we seek pleasure, and now, for eight days only of all the
year, we have there the great spectacle of the Adoration of the Magi,
performed every hour by automata within the little golden-railed gallery
on the facade of the Giant’s Clock Tower. There the Virgin sits above
the azure circle of the zodiac, all heavily gilded, and holding the
Child, equally splendid. Through the doors on either side, usually
occupied by the illuminated figures of the hours, appears the procession
and disappears. The stately giant on the summit of the tower, at the
hither side of the great bell, solemnly strikes the hour--as a giant
should who has struck it for centuries--with a grand, whole-arm
movement, and a slow, muscular pride. We look up--we tourists of the
red-backed books; we peasant-girls radiant with converging darts of
silver piercing the masses of our thick black hair; we Austrian soldiers
in white coats and blue tights; we voiceful sellers of the cherries
of Padua, and we calm loafers about the many-pillared base of the
church--we look up and see the Adoration. First, the trumpeter, blowing
the world news of the act; then the first king, turning softly to the
Virgin, and bowing; then the second, that enthusiastic devotee,--the
second who lifts his crown quite from his head; last the Ethiopian
prince, gorgeous in green and gold, who, I am sorry to say, burlesques
the whole solemnity. His devotion may be equally heart-felt, but it is
more jerky than that of the others. He bows well and adequately, but
recovers his balance with a prodigious start, altogether too suggestive
of springs and wheels. Perhaps there is a touch of the pathetic in this
grotesque fatality of the black king, whose suffering race has always
held mankind between laughter and tears, and has seldom done a fine
thing without leaving somewhere the neutralizing absurdity; but if
there is, the sentimental may find it, not I. When the procession has
disappeared, we wait till the other giant has struck the hour, and then
we disperse.

If it is six o’clock, and the sea has begun to breathe cool across the
Basin of St. Mark, we find our account in strolling upon the long Riva
degli Schiavoni towards the Public Gardens. One would suppose, at first
thought, that here, on this magnificent quay, with its glorious lookout
over the lagoons, the patricians would have built their finest palaces;
whereas there is hardly any thing but architectural shabbiness from the
Ponte della Paglia at one end, to the Ponte Santa Marina at the other.
But there need be nothing surprising in the fact, after all. The feudal
wealth and nobility of other cities kept the base at a respectful
distance by means of lofty stone walls, and so shut in their palaces and
gardens. Here equal seclusion could only be achieved by building flush
upon the water, and therefore all the finest palaces rise sheer from
the canals; and caffè, shops, barracks, and puppet-shows occupy the
Riva degli Schiavoni. Nevertheless, it is the favorite promenade of the
Venetians for the winter sunshine, and at such times in the summer as
when the sun’s rage is tempered. There is always variety in the throng
on the Riva, but the fashionable part of it is the least interesting:
here and there a magnificent Greek flashes through the crowd, in
dazzling white petticoats and gold-embroidered leggings and jacket;
now and then a tall Dalmat or a solemn Turk; even the fishermen and
the peasants, and the lower orders of the people, are picturesque; but
polite Venice is hopelessly given to the pride of the eyes, and commits
all the excesses of the French modes. The Venetian dandy, when dressed
to his own satisfaction, is the worst-dressed man in the world. His
hat curls outrageously in brim and sides; his coatsleeves are extremely
full, and the garment pinches him at the waist; his pantaloons flow
forth from the hips, and contract narrowly at the boot, which is
square-toed and made too long. The whole effect is something not to
be seen elsewhere, and is well calculated to move the beholder to
desperation. [Footnote: These exaggerations of the fashions of 1862 have
been succeeded by equal travesties of the present modes.] The Venetian
fine lady, also, is prone to be superfine. Her dress is as full of color
as a Paolo Veronese; in these narrow streets, where it is hard to expand
an umbrella, she exaggerates hoops to the utmost; and she fatally hides
her ankles in pantalets.

In the wide thoroughfare leading from the last bridge of the Riva to the
gate of the gardens there is always a clapping of wooden shoes on the
stones, a braying of hand-organs, a shrieking of people who sell fish
and fruit, at once insufferable and indescribable. The street is a _rio
terrà_,--a filled-up canal,--and, as always happens with _rii terrai_,
is abandoned to the poorest classes who manifest themselves, as the
poorest classes are apt to do always, in groups of frowzy women, small
girls carrying large babies, beggars, of course, and soldiers. I spoke
of fruit-sellers; but in this quarter the traffic in pumpkin-seeds is
the most popular,--the people finding these an inexpensive and pleasant
excess, when taken with a glass of water flavored with anise.

The Gardens were made by Napoleon, who demolished to that end some
monasteries once cumbering the ground. They are pleasant enough, and
are not gardens at all, but a park of formally-planted trees--sycamores,
chiefly. I do not remember to have seen here any Venetians of the better
class, except on the Mondays-of-the-Garden, in September. Usually the
promenaders are fishermen, Austrian corporals, loutish youth of
low degree, and women too old and too poor to have any thing to do.
Strangers go there, and the German visitors even drink the exceptionable
beer which is sold in the wooden cottage on the little hillock at the
end of the Gardens. There is also a stable--where are the only horses
in Venice. They are let at a florin an hour, and I do not know why the
riders are always persons of the Hebrew faith. In a word, nothing can be
drearier than the company in the Gardens, and nothing lovelier than the
view they command,--from the sunset on the dome of the church of the
Salute, all round the broad sweep of lagoon, to the tower at the port of
San Nicolò, where you catch a glimpse of the Adriatic.

The company is commonly stupid, but one evening, as we strolled idly
through the walks, we came upon an interesting group--forty or fifty
sailors, soldiers, youth of the people, gray-haired fishermen and
contadini--sitting and lying on the grass, and listening with rapt
attention to an old man reclining against a tree. I never saw a manner
of sweeter or easier dignity than the speaker’s. Nature is so lavish of
her grace to these people that grow near her heart--the sun! Infinite
study could not have taught one northern-born the charm of oratory as
this old man displayed it. I listened, and heard that he was speaking
Tuscan. Do you guess with what he was enchanting his simple auditors?
Nothing less than “Orlando Furioso.” They listened with the hungriest
delight, and when Ariosto’s interpreter raised his finger and said,
“Disse l’imperatore,” or, “Orlando disse, Carlomano mio,” they hardly

On the _Lunedì dei Giardini_, already mentioned, all orders of the
people flock thither, and promenade, and banquet on the grass. The trees
get back the voices of their dryads, and the children fill the aisles
with glancing movement and graceful sport.

Of course, the hand-organ seeks here its proper element, the
populace,--but here it brays to a peculiarly beautiful purpose. For
no sooner does it sound than the young girls of the people wreathe
themselves into dances, and improvise the poetry of motion. Over the
grass they whirl, and up and down the broad avenues, and no one of all
the gentle and peaceable crowd molests or makes them afraid. It is a
scene to make you believe in Miriam dancing with Donatello there in that
old garden at Rome, and reveals a simple beauty in the nature of the
Italian poor, which shall one day, I hope, be counted in their favor
when they are called to answer for lying and swindling.



It often happens, even after the cold has announced itself in
Venice, that the hesitating winter lingers in the Tyrol, and a mellow
Indian-summer weather has possession of the first weeks of December.
There was nothing in the December weather of 1863 to remind us
Northerners that Christmas was coming. The skies were as blue as those
of June, the sun was warm, and the air was bland, with only now and then
a trenchant breath from the Alps, coming like a delicate sarcasm from
loveliness unwilling to be thought insipidly amiable. But if there was
no warning in the weather, there were other signs of Christmas-time
not to be mistaken: a certain foolish leaping of the heart in one’s
own breast, as if the dead raptures of childhood were stirred in their
graves by the return of the happy season; and in Venice, in weary,
forlorn Venice, there was the half-unconscious tumult, the expectant
bustle which cities feel at the approach of holidays. The little shops
put on their gayest airs; there was a great clapping and hammering
on the stalls and booths which were building in the campos; the
street-cries were more shrill and resonant than ever, and the air was
shaken with the continual clangor of the church bells. All this note of
preparation is rather bewildering to strangers, and is apt to disorder
the best-disciplined intentions of seeing Christmas as the Venetians
keep it. The public observance of the holiday in the churches and on the
streets is evident and accessible to the most transient sojourner;
but it is curious proof of the difficulty of knowledge concerning the
in-door life and usages of the Italians, that I had already spent
two Christmases in Venice without learning any thing of their home
celebration of the day. Perhaps a degree of like difficulty attends like
inquiry everywhere, for the happiness of Christmas contracts the
family circle more exclusively than ever around the home hearth, or the
domestic scaldino, as the case may be. But, at any rate, I was quite
ready to say that the observance of Christmas in Venice was altogether
public, when I thought it a measure of far-sighted prudence to consult
my barber.

In all Latin countries the barber is a source of information, which,
skillfully tapped, pours forth in a stream of endless gossip and local
intelligence. Every man talks with his barber; and perhaps a lingering
dignity clings to this artist from his former profession of surgeon:
it is certain the barber here prattles on with a freedom and importance
perfectly admitted and respected by the interlocutory count under his
razor. Those who care to know how things passed in an Italian barber
shop three hundred years ago, may read it in Miss Evans’s “Romola;”
 those who are willing to see Nello alive and carrying on his art in
Venice at this day, must go to be shaved at his shop in the Frezzaria.
Here there is a continual exchange of gossip, and I have often listened
with profit to the sage and piquant remarks of the head barber and chief
_ciarlone_, on the different events of human life brought to his notice.
His shop is well known as a centre of scandal, and I have heard a fair
Venetian declare that she had cut from her list all acquaintance who
go there, as persons likely to become infected with the worst habits of

To this Nello, however, I used to go only when in the most brilliant
humor for listening, and my authority on Christmas observances is
another and humbler barber, but not less a babbler, than the first. By
birth, I believe, he is a Mantuan, and he prides himself on speaking
Italian instead of Venetian. He has a defective eye, which obliges him
to tack before bringing his razor to bear, but which is all the more
favorable to conversation. On the whole, he is flattered to be asked
about Christmas in Venice, and he first tells me that it is one of the
chief holidays of the year:--

“It is then, Signore, that the Venetians have the custom to make three
sorts of peculiar presents: Mustard, Fish, and Mandorlato. You must have
seen the mustard in the shop windows: it is a thick conserve of fruits,
flavored with mustard; and the mandorlato is a candy made of honey, and
filled with almonds. Well, they buy fish, as many as they will, and a
vase of mustard, and a box of mandorlato, and make presents of them, one
family to another, the day before Christmas. It is not too much for a
rich family to present a hundred boxes of mandorlato and as many pots of
mustard. These are exchanged between friends in the city, and Venetians
also send them to acquaintance in the country, whence the gift is
returned in cakes and eggs at Easter. Christmas Eve people invite each
other to great dinners, and eat and drink, and make merry; but there
are only fish and vegetables, for it is a meagre day, and meats are
forbidden. This dinner lasts so long that, when it is over, it is almost
time to so to midnight mass, which all must attend, or else hear three
masses on the morrow; and no doubt it was some delinquent who made our
saying,--‘Long as a Christmas mass.’ On Christmas Day people dine at
home, keeping the day with family reunions. But the day after! Ah-heigh!
That is the first of Carnival, and all the theatres are opened, and
there is no end to the amusements--or was not, in the old time. Now,
they never begin. A week later comes the day of the Lord’s Circumcision,
and then the next holiday is Easter. The Nativity, the Circumcision, and
the Resurrection--behold! these are the three mysteries of the Christian
faith. Of what religion are the Americans, Signore?”

I think I was justified in answering that we were Christians. My barber
was politely surprised. “But there are so many different religions,” he
said, in excuse.

On the afternoon before Christmas I walked through the thronged Merceria
to the Rialto Bridge, where the tumultuous mart which opens at Piazza
San Marco culminates in a deafening uproar of bargains. At this time the
Merceria, or street of the shops, presents the aspect of a fair, and is
arranged with a tastefulness and a cunning ability to make the most of
every thing, which are seldom applied to the abundance of our fairs at
home. The shops in Venice are all very small, and the streets of lofty
houses are so narrow and dark, that whatever goods are not exposed
in the shop-windows are brought to the door to be clamored over by
purchasers; so that the Merceria is roused by unusual effort to produce
a more pronounced effect of traffic and noise than it always wears; but
now the effort had been made and the effect produced. The street was
choked with the throngs, through which all sorts of peddlers battled
their way and cried their wares. In Campo San Bartolomeo, into which
the Merceria expands, at the foot of Rialto Bridge, holiday traffic
had built enormous barricades of stalls, and entrenched itself behind
booths, whence purchasers were assailed with challenges to buy bargains.
More than half the campo was paved with crockery from Rovigo and
glass-ware from Murano; clothing of every sort, and all kinds of small
household wares, were offered for sale; and among the other booths, in
the proportion of two to one, were stalls of the inevitable Christmas
mustard and mandorlato.

But I cared rather for the crowd than what the crowd cared for. I had
been long ago obliged to throw aside my preconceived notions of the
Italian character, though they were not, I believe, more absurd than the
impressions of others who have never studied Italian character in Italy.
I hardly know what of bacchantic joyousness I had not attributed to them
on their holidays: a people living in a mild climate under such a lovely
sky, with wine cheap and abundant, might not unreasonably have been
expected to put on a show of the greatest jollity when enjoying
themselves. Venetian crowds are always perfectly gentle and kindly, but
they are also as a whole usually serious; and this Christmas procession,
moving up and down the Merceria, and to and fro between the markets of
Rialto, was in the fullest sense a solemnity. It is true that the scene
was dramatic, but the drama was not consciously comic. Whether these
people bought or sold, or talked together, or walked up and down in
silence, they were all equally in earnest. The crowd, in spite of its
noisy bustle and passionate uproar, did not seem to me a blithe or
light-hearted crowd. Its sole activity was that of traffic, for, far
more dearly than any Yankee, a Venetian loves a bargain, and puts his
whole heart into upholding and beating down demands.

Across the Bridge began the vegetable and fruit market, where whole
Hollands of cabbage and Spains of onions opened on the view, with every
other succulent and toothsome growth; and beyond this we entered the
glory of Rialto, the fish-market, which is now more lavishly supplied
than at any other season. It was picturesque and full of gorgeous color
for the fish of Venice seem all to catch the rainbow hues of the lagoon.
There is a certain kind of red mullet, called _triglia_, which is
as rich and tender in its dyes as if it had never swam in water
less glorious than that which crimsons under October sunsets. But
a fish-market, even at Rialto, with fishermen in scarlet caps and
_triglie_ in sunset splendors, is only a fish-market after all: it is
wet and slimy under foot, and the innumerable gigantic eels, writhing
everywhere, set the soul asquirm, and soon-sated curiosity slides
willingly away.

We had an appointment with a young Venetian lady to attend midnight mass
at the church of San Moisè, and thither about half-past eleven we went
to welcome in Christmas. The church of San Moisè is in the highest style
of the Renaissance art, which is, I believe, the lowest style of any
other. The richly sculptured façade is divided into stories; the fluted
columns are stilted upon pedestals, and their lines are broken by the
bands which encircle them like broad barrel-hoops. At every possible
point theatrical saints and angels, only sustained from falling to the
ground by iron bars let into their backs, start from the niches and
cling to the sculpture. The outside of the church is in every way
detestable, and the inside is consistently bad. All the side-altars have
broken arches, and the high altar is built of rough blocks of marble to
represent Mount Sinai, on which a melodramatic statue of Moses receives
the tables of the law from God the Father, with frescoed seraphim in
the background. For the same reason, I suppose, that the devout prefer a
hideous Bambino and a Madonna in crinoline to the most graceful artistic
conception of those sacred personages, San Moisè is the most popular
church for the midnight mass in Venice, and there is no mass at all in
St. Mark’s, where its magnificence would be so peculiarly impressive.

On Christmas Eve, then, this church was crowded, and the door-ways were
constantly thronged with people passing in and out. I was puzzled to
see so many young men present, for Young Italy is not usually in great
number at church; but a friend explained the anomaly: “After the guests
at our Christmas Eve dinners have well eaten and drunken, they all go to
mass in at least one church, and the younger offer a multiplied devotion
by going to all. It is a good thing in some ways, for by this means
they manage to see every pretty face in the city, which that night has
specially prepared itself to be seen;” and from this slender text my
friend began to discourse at large about these Christmas Eve dinners,
and chiefly how jollily the priests fared, ending with the devout wish,
“Would God had made me nephew of a canonico!” The great dinners of the
priests are a favorite theme with Italian talkers; but I doubt it is
after all only a habit of speech. The priests are too numerous to feed
sumptuously in most cases.

We had a good place to see and hear, sitting in the middle of the main
aisle, directly over the dust of John Law, who alighted in Venice
when his great Mississippi bubble burst, and died here, and now sleeps
peacefully under a marble tablet in the ugly church of San Moisè. The
thought of that busy, ambitious life, come to this unscheming repose
under our feet,--so far from the scene of its hopes, successes, and
defeats,--gave its own touch of solemnity to the time and place, and
helped the offended sense of propriety through the bursts of operatic
music, which interspersed the mass. But on the whole, the music was good
and the function sufficiently impressive,--what with the gloom of the
temple everywhere starred with tapers, and the grand altar lighted to
the mountain-top. The singing of the priests also was here much better
than I had found it elsewhere in Venice.

The equality of all classes in church is a noticeable thing always in
Italy, but on this Christmas Eve it was unusually evident. The rags of
the beggar brushed the silks of luxury, as the wearers knelt side by
side on the marble floor; and on the night when God was born to poverty
on earth, the rich seemed to feel that they drew nearer Him in the
neighborhood of the poor. In these costly temples of the eldest
Christianity, the poor seem to enter upon their inheritance of the
future, for it is they who frequent them most and possess them with the
deepest sense of ownership. The withered old woman, who creeps into St
Mark’s with her scaldino in her hand, takes visible possession of its
magnificence as God’s and hers, and Catholic wealth and rank would
hardly, if challenged, dispute her claim.

Even the longest mass comes to an end at last, and those of our party
who could credit themselves with no gain of masses against the morrow,
received the benediction at San Moisè with peculiar unction. We all
issued forth, and passing through the lines of young men who draw
themselves up on either side of the doors of public places in Venice, to
look at the young ladies as they come out, we entered the Place of
St. Mark. The Piazza was more gloriously beautiful than ever I saw it
before, and the church had a saintly loveliness. The moon was full, and
snowed down the mellowest light on the gray domes, which in their soft,
elusive outlines, and strange effect of far-withdrawal, rhymed like
faint-heard refrains to the bright and vivid arches of the façade. And
if the bronze horses had been minded to quit their station before the
great window over the central arch, they might have paced around the
night’s whole half-world, and found no fairer resting-place.

As for Christmas Day in Venice, it amounted to very little; every thing
was closed, and whatever merry-making went on was all within doors.
Although the shops and the places of amusement were opened the day
following, the city entered very sparingly on the pleasures of
Carnival, and Christmas week passed off in every-day fashion. It will be
remembered that on St. Stephen’s Day--the first of Carnival--one of the
five annual banquets took place at the Ducal Palace in the time of the
Republic. A certain number of patricians received invitations to the
dinner, and those for whom there was no room were presented with fish
and poultry by the Doge. The populace were admitted to look on during
the first course, and then, having sated their appetites with this
savory observance, were invited to withdraw. The patriotic Giustina
Renier-Michiel of course makes much of the courtesy thus extended to the
people by the State, but I cannot help thinking it must have been hard
to bear. The banquet, however, has passed away with the Republic which
gave it, and the only savor of dinner which Venetian poverty now inhales
on St. Stephen’s Day, is that which arises from its own proper pot of

New Year’s is the carnival of the beggars in Venice. Their business is
carried on briskly throughout the year, but on this day it is pursued
with an unusual degree of perseverance, and an enterprise worthy of all
disinterested admiration. At every corner, on every bridge, under every
door-way, hideous shapes of poverty, mutilation, and deformity stand
waiting, and thrust out palms, plates, and pans, and advance good wishes
and blessings to all who pass, It is an immemorial custom, and it is one
in which all but the quite comfortable classes participate. The facchini
in every square take up their collections; the gondoliers have their
plates prepared for contribution at every ferry; at every caffè and
restaurant begging-boxes appeal to charity. Whoever has lifted hand in
your service in any way during the past year expects a reward on New
Year’s for the complaisance, and in some cases the shop-keepers send to
wish you a _bel capo d’anno_, with the same practical end in view. On
New Year’s Eve and morning bands of facchini and gondoliers go about
howling _vivas_ under charitable windows till they open and drop
alms. The Piazza is invaded by the legions of beggary, and held in
overpowering numbers against all comers; and to traverse it is like a
progress through a lazar-house.

Beyond encouraging so gross an abuse as this, I do not know that Venice
celebrates New Year’s in a peculiar manner. It is a _festa_, and there
are masses, of course. Presents are exchanged, which consist chiefly of
books--printed for the season, and brilliant outside and dull within,
like all annuals.



The Venetians have had a practical and strictly business-like way of
arranging marriages from the earliest times. The shrewdest provision has
always been made for the dower and for the good of the State; private
and public interest being consulted, the small matters of affections
have been left to the chances of association; and it does not seem that
Venetian society has ever dealt severely with husbands or wives whom
incompatibilities forced to seek consolation outside of matrimony.
Herodotus relates that the Illyrian Veneti sold their daughters at
auction to the highest bidder; and the fair being thus comfortably
placed in life, the hard-favored were given to whomsoever would take
them, with such dower as might be considered a reasonable compensation.
The auction was discontinued in Christian times, but marriage contracts
still partook of the form of a public and half-mercantile transaction.
At a comparatively late period Venetian fathers went with their
daughters to a great annual matrimonial fair at San Pietro di Castello
Olivolo, and the youth of the lagoons repaired thither to choose wives
from the number of the maidens. These were all dressed in white, with
hair loose about the neck, and each bore her dower in a little box,
slung over her shoulder by a ribbon. It is to be supposed that there was
commonly a previous understanding between each damsel and some youth in
the crowd: as soon as all had paired off, the bishop gave them a sermon
and his benediction, and the young men gathered up their brides and
boxes, and went away wedded. It was on one of these occasions, in the
year 944, that the Triestine pirates stole the Brides of Venice with
their dowers, and gave occasion to the Festa delle Marie, already
described, and to Rogers’s poem, which every body pretends to have read.

This going to San Pietro’s, selecting a wife and marrying her on
the spot, out of hand, could only have been the contrivance of a
straightforward, practical race. Among the common people betrothals were
managed with even greater ease and dispatch, till a very late day in
history; and in the record of a certain trial which took place in 1443
there is an account of one of these brief and unceremonious courtships.
Donna Catarussa, who gives evidence, and whom I take to have been a
worthless, idle gossip, was one day sitting at her door, when Piero di
Trento passed, selling brooms, and said to her, “Madonna, find me some
nice girl.” To which Donna Catarussa replied, “Ugly fool! do you take me
for a go-between?” “No,” said Piero, “not that; I mean a girl to be my
wife.” And as Donna Catarussa thought at once of a suitable match, she
said, “In faith of God, I know one for you. Come again to-morrow.” So
they both met next day, and the woman chosen by Donna Catarussa being
asked, “Wouldst thou like to have Piero for thy husband, as God commands
and holy Church?” she answered, “Yes.” And Peter being asked the like
question, answered, “Why, yes, certainly.” And they went off and had
the wedding feast. A number of these betrothals takes place in the last
scene of Goldoni’s “Baruffe Chiozzotte,” where the belligerent women and
their lovers take hands in the public streets, and saluting each
other as man and wife, are affianced, and get married as quickly as

“_Checa_ (to Tofolo). Take my hand.

“_Tofolo_. Wife!

“_Checa_. Husband!

“_Tofolo_. Hurra!”

The betrothals of the Venetian nobles were celebrated with as much
pomp and ceremony as could possibly distinguish them from those of the
people, and there was much more polite indifference to the inclinations
of the parties immediately concerned. The contract was often concluded
before the betrothed had seen each other, by means of a third person,
when the amount of the dower was fixed. The bridegroom elect having
verbally agreed with the parents of the bride, repaired at an early day
to the court-yard of the Ducal Palace, where the match was published,
and where he shook hands with his kinsmen and friends. On the day fixed
for signing the contract the bride’s father invited to his house the
bridegroom and all his friends, and hither came the high officers of
state to compliment the future husband. He, with the father of his
betrothed, met the guests at the door of the palace, and conducted them
to the grand saloon, which no woman was allowed (_si figuri!_) at this
time to enter. When the company was seated, the bride, clad in white,
was led from her rooms and presented. She wore a crown of pearls and
brilliants on her head, and her hair, mixed with long threads of
gold, fell loose about her shoulders, as you may see it in Carpaccio’s
pictures of the Espousals of St. Ursula. Her ear-rings were pendants of
three pearls set in gold; her neck and throat were bare but for a collar
of lace and gems, from which slid a fine jeweled chain into her bosom.
Over her breast she wore a stomacher of cloth of gold, to which were
attached her sleeves, open from the elbow to the hand. The formal words
of espousal being pronounced, the bride paced slowly round the hall to
the music of fifes and trumpets, and made a gentle inclination to each
of the guests; and then returned to her chamber, from which she issued
again on the arrival of any tardy friend, and repeated the ceremony.
After all this, she descended to the courtyard, where she was received
by gentlewomen, her friends, and placed on a raised seat (which was
covered with rich stuffs) in an open gondola, and thus, followed by a
fleet of attendant gondolas, went to visit all the convents in which
there were kinspeople of herself or her betrothed. The excessive
publicity of these ceremonies was supposed to strengthen the validity
of the marriage contract. At an early day after the espousals the
betrothed, preceded by musicians and followed by relatives and friends,
went at dawn to be married in the church,--the bridegroom wearing a
toga, and the bride a dress of white silk or crimson velvet, with
jewels in her hair, and pearls embroidered on her robes. Visits of
congratulation followed, and on the same day a public feast was given
in honor of the wedding, to which at least three hundred persons were
always invited, and at which the number, quality, and cost of the dishes
were carefully regulated by the Republic’s laws. On this occasion, one
or more persons were chosen as governors of the feast, and after the
tables were removed, a mock-heroic character appeared, and recounted
with absurd exaggeration the deeds of the ancestors of the bride and
groom. The next morning _ristorativi_ of sweetmeats and confectionery
were presented to the happy couple, by whom the presents were returned
in kind.

A splendor so exceptional, even in the most splendid age of the most
splendid city, as that which marked the nuptial feasts of the unhappy
Jacopo Foscari, could not be left unnoticed in this place. He
espoused Lucrezia, daughter of Lionardo Contarini, a noble as rich
and magnificent as Jacopo’s own father, the Doge; and, on the 29th of
January 1441, the noble Eustachio Balbi being chosen lord of the feasts,
the bridegroom, the bride’s brother and eighteen other patrician youths,
assembled in the Palazzo Balbi, whence they went on horseback to conduct
Lucrezia to the Ducal Palace. They were all sumptuously dressed in
crimson velvet and silver brocade of Alexandria, and rode chargers
superbly caparisoned. Other noble friends attended them; musicians went
before; a troop of soldiers brought up the rear. They thus proceeded to
the court-yard of the Ducal Palace, and then, returning, traversed
the Piazza, and threading the devious little streets to the Campo San
Samuele, there crossed the Grand Canal upon a bridge of boats, to San
Barnaba opposite, where the Contarini lived. On their arrival at this
place the bride, supported by two Procuratori di San Marco, and attended
by sixty ladies, descended to the church and heard mass, after which
an oration was delivered in Campo San Barnaba before the Doge, the
ambassadors, and a multitude of nobles and people, in praise of the
spouses and their families. The bride then returned to her father’s
house, and jousts took place in the campos of Santa Maria Formosa and
San Polo (the largest in the city), and in the Piazza San Marco. The
Doge gave a great banquet, and at its close one hundred and fifty ladies
proceeded to the bride’s palace in the Bucintoro, where one hundred
other ladies joined them, together with Lucrezia, who, seated between
Francesco Sforza (then General-in-chief of the Republic’s armies) and
the Florentine ambassador, was conducted, amid the shouts of the people
and the sound of trumpets, to the Ducal Palace. The Doge received her
at the riva of the Piazzetta, and, with Sforza and Balbi led her to
the foot of the palace stairs, where the Dogaressa, with sixty ladies,
welcomed her. A state supper ended this day’s rejoicings, and on the
following day a tournament took place in the Piazza, for a prize of
cloth of gold, which was offered by Sforza. Forty knights contested the
prize and supped afterward with the Doge. On the next day there were
processions of boats with music on the Grand Canal; on the fourth and
last day there were other jousts for prizes offered by the jewelers and
Florentine merchants; and every night there were dancing and feasting in
the Ducal Palace. The Doge was himself the giver of the last tournament,
and with this the festivities came to an end.

I have read an account by an old-fashioned English traveler of a
Venetian marriage which he saw, sixty or seventy years ago, at the
church of San Giorgio Maggiore: “After a crowd of nobles,” he says, “in
their usual black robes, had been some time in attendance, the gondolas
appearing, exhibited a fine show, though all of them were painted of a
sable hue, in consequence of a sumptuary law, which is very necessary in
this place, to prevent an expense which many who could not bear it would
incur; nevertheless the barcarioli, or boatmen, were dressed in handsome
liveries; the gondolas followed one another in a line, each carrying two
ladies, who were likewise dressed in black. As they landed they arranged
themselves in order, forming a line from the gate to the great altar.
At length the bride, arrayed in white as the symbol of innocence, led
by the bridesman, ascended the stairs of the landing-place. There she
received the compliments of the bridegroom, in his black toga, who
walked at her right hand to the altar, where they and all the company
kneeled. I was often afraid the poor young creature would have sunk upon
the ground before she arrived, for she trembled with great agitation,
while she made her low courtesies from side to side: however, the
ceremony was no sooner performed than she seemed to recover her spirits,
and looked matrimony in the face with a determined smile. Indeed, in
all appearance she had nothing to fear from her husband, whose age and
aspect were not at all formidable; accordingly she tripped back to the
gondola with great activity and resolution, and the procession ended as
it began. Though there was something attractive in this aquatic parade,
the black hue of the boats and the company presented to a stranger,
like me, the idea of a funeral rather than a wedding. My expectation
was raised too high by the previous description of the Italians, who are
much given to hyperbole, who gave me to understand that this procession
would far exceed any thing I had ever seen. When I reflect upon this
rhodomontade,” disdainfully adds Mr. Drummond, “I cannot help comparing,
in my memory, the paltry procession of the Venetian marriage with a very
august occurrence of which I was eyewitness in Sweden,” and which being
the reception of their Swedish Majesties by the British fleet, I am sure
the reader will not ask me to quote. With change of government, changes
of civilization following the revolutions, and the decay of wealth among
the Venetian nobles, almost all their splendid customs have passed away,
and the habit of making wedding presents of sweetmeats and confectionery
is perhaps the only relic which has descended from the picturesque past
to the present time. These gifts are still exchanged not only by nobles,
but by all commoners according to their means, and are sometimes a
source of very profuse outlay. It is the habit to send the candies in
the elegant and costly paper caskets which the confectioners sell, and
the sum of a thousand florins scarcely suffices to pass the courtesy
round a moderately large circle of friends.

With the nobility and with the richest commoners marriage is still
greatly a matter of contract, and is arranged without much reference to
the principals, though it is now scarcely probable in any case that
they have not seen each other. But with all other classes, except the
poorest, who cannot and do not seclude the youth of either sex from each
other, and with whom, consequently, romantic contrivance and subterfuge
would be superfluous, love is made to-day in Venice as in the _capa y
espada_ comedies of the Spaniards, and the business is carried on with
all the cumbrous machinery of confidants, billets-doux, and stolen

Let us take our nominal friends, Marco and Todaro, and attend them in
their solemn promenade under the arcades of the Procuratie, or upon the
Molo, whither they go every evening to taste the air and to look at
the ladies, while the Austrians and the other foreigners listen to the
military music in the Piazza. They are both young, our friends; they
have both glossy silk hats; they have both light canes and an innocent
swagger. Inconceivably mild are these youth, and in their talk
indescribably small and commonplace.

They look at the ladies, and suddenly Todaro feels the consuming ardors
of love.

_Todaro_ (to Marco). Here, dear! Behold this beautiful blonde here!
Beautiful as an angel! But what loveliness!

_Marco_. But where?

_Todaro_. It is enough. Let us go. I follow her.

Such is the force of the passion in southern hearts. They follow that
beautiful blonde, who, marching demurely in front of the gray-moustached
papa and the fat mamma, after the fashion in Venice, is electrically
conscious of pursuit. They follow her during the whole evening, and, at
a distance, softly follow her home, where the burning Todaro photographs
the number of the house upon the sensitized tablets of his soul.

This is the first great step in love: he has seen his adored one, and he
knows that he loves her with an inextinguishable ardor. The next advance
is to be decided between himself and the faithful Marco, and is to
be debated over many cups of black coffee, not to name glasses of
sugar-and-water and the like exciting beverages. The friends may now
find out the caffè which the Biondina frequents with her parents, and
to which Todaro may go every evening and feast his eyes upon her
loveliness, never making his regard known by any word, till some night,
when he has followed her home, he steals speech with her as he stands in
the street under her balcony,--and looks sufficiently sheepish as
people detect him on their late return from the theatre. [Footnote:
The love-making scenes in Goldoni’s comedy of _Il Bugiarda_ are
photographically faithful to present usage in Venice.] Or, if the
friends do not take this course in their courtship (for they are both
engaged in the wooing), they decide that Todaro, after walking back
and forth a sufficient number of times in the street where the Biondina
lives, shall write her a tender letter, to demand if she be disposed to
correspond his love. This billet must always be conveyed to her by her
serving-maid, who must be bribed by Marco for the purpose. At every
juncture Marco must be consulted, and acquainted with every step of
progress; and no doubt the Biondina has some lively Moretta for her
friend, to whom she confides her part of the love-affair in all its

It may likewise happen that Todaro shall go to see the Biondina in
church, whither, but for her presence, he would hardly go, and that
there, though he may not have speech with her, he shall still fan
the ardors of her curiosity and pity by persistent sighs. It must
be confessed that if the Biondina is not pleased with his looks, his
devotion must assume the character of an intolerable bore to her; and
that to see him everywhere at her heels--to behold him leaning against
the pillar near which she kneels at church, the head of his stick in his
mouth, and his attitude carefully taken with a view to captivation--to
be always in deadly fear lest she shall meet him in promenade, or,
turning round at the caffè encounter his pleading gaze--that all
this must drive the Biondina to a state bordering upon blasphemy and
finger-nails. _Ma, come si fa? Ci vuol pazienza!_ This is the sole
course open to ingenuous youth in Venice, where confessed and unashamed
acquaintance between young people is extremely difficult; and so this
blind pursuit must go on, till the Biondina’s inclinations are at last
laboriously ascertained.

Suppose the Biondina consents to be loved? Then Todaro has just and
proper inquiries to make concerning her dower, and if her fortune is
as pleasing as herself, he has only to demand her in marriage of her
father, and after that to make her acquaintance.

One day a Venetian friend of mine, who spoke a little English, came to
me with a joyous air and said:

“I am in lofe.”

The recipient of repeated confidences of this kind from the same person,
I listened with tempered effusion.

“It is a blonde again?”

“Yes, you have right; blonde again.”

“And pretty?”

“Oh, but beautiful. I lofe her--_come si dice!--immensamente.”_ “And
where did you see her? Where did you make her acquaintance?”

“I have not make the acquaintance. I see her pass with his fazer every
night on Rialto Bridge We did not spoke yet--only with the eyes.
The lady is not of Venice. She has four thousand florins. It is not
much--no. But!”

Is not this love at first sight almost idyllic? Is it not also a sublime
prudence to know the lady’s fortune better than herself, before herself?
These passionate, headlong Italians look well to the main chance before
they leap into matrimony, and you may be sure Todaro knows, in black and
white, what the Biondina has to her fortune before he weds her. After
that may come the marriage, and the sonnet written by the next of
friendship, and printed to hang up in all the shop-windows, celebrating
the auspicious event. If he be rich, or can write _nobile_ after his
Christian name, perhaps some abbate, elegantly addicted to verses and
alive to grateful consequences, may publish a poem, elegantly printed
by the matchless printers at Rovigo, and send it to all the bridegroom’s
friends. It is not the only event which the facile Venetian Muse shall
sing for him. If his child is brought happily through the measles by
Dottor Cavasangue, the Nine shall celebrate the fact. If he takes any
public honor or scholastic degree, it is equal occasion for verses; and
when he dies the mortuary rhyme shall follow him. Indeed, almost every
occurrence--a boy’s success at school, an advocate’s triumphal passage
of the perils of examination at Padua, a priest’s first mass, a nun’s
novitiate, a birth, an amputation--is the subject of tuneful effusion,
and no less the occasion of a visit from the facchini of the neighboring
campo, who assemble with blare of trumpets and tumult of voices around
the victim’s door, and proclaim his skill or good fortune, and break
into _vivas_ that never end till he bribes their enthusiasm into
silence. The naïve commonplaceness of feeling in all matrimonial
transactions, in spite of the gloss which the operatic methods of
courtship threw about them, was a source of endless amusement, as
it stole out in different ways. “You know my friend Marco?” asked an
acquaintance one day. “Well, we are looking out a wife for him. He
doesn’t want to marry, but his father insists; and he has begged us
to find somebody. There are three of us on the look-out. But he hates
women, and is very hard to suit. _Ben! Ci vuol pazienza!”_

It rarely happens now that the religious part of the marriage ceremony
is not performed in church, though it may be performed at the house of
the bride. In this case, it usually takes place in the evening, and the
spouses attend five o’clock mass next morning. But if the marriage takes
place at church, it must be between five and eleven in the morning, and
the blessing is commonly pronounced about six o’clock. Civil marriage
is still unknown among the Venetians. It is entirely the affair of the
Church, in which the bans are published beforehand, and which exacts
from the candidates a preliminary visit to their parish priest, for
examination in their catechism, and for instruction in religion when
they are defective in knowledge of the kind. There is no longer any
civil publication of the betrothals, and the hand-shaking in the court
of the Ducal Palace has long been disused. I cannot help thinking
that the ceremony must have been a great affliction, and that, in the
Republican times at Venice, a bridegroom must have fared nearly as hard
as a President elect in our times at home.

There was a curious display on occasion of births among the nobility
in former times. The room of the young mother was decorated with a
profusion of paintings, sculpture, and jewelry; and, while yet in bed,
she received the congratulations of her friends, and regaled them with
sweetmeats served in vases of gold and silver.

The child of noble parents had always at least two godfathers, and
sometimes as many as a hundred and fifty; but in order that the
relationship of godfather (which is the same according to the canonical
law as a tie of consanguinity) should not prevent desirable matrimony
between nobles, no patrician was allowed to be godfather to another’s
child. Consequently the _compare_ was usually a client of the noble
parent, and was not expected to make any present to the godchild, whose
father, on the day following the baptism, sent him a piece of marchpane,
in acknowledgment of their relationship. No women were present at the
baptism except those who had charge of the babe. After the fall of
the Republic the French custom of baptism in the parents’ house was
introduced, as well as the custom, on the godfather’s part, of giving a
present,--usually of sugarplums and silver toys. But I think that most
baptisms still take place in church, if I may judge from the numbers
of tight little glass cases I have noticed,--half bed and half
coffin,--containing little eight-day-old Venetians, closely swathed in
mummy-like bandages, and borne to and from the churches by mysterious
old women. The ceremony of baptism itself does not apparently differ
from that in other Catholic countries, and is performed, like all
religious services in Italy, without a ray of religious feeling or
solemnity of any kind.

For many centuries funeral services in Venice have been conducted by the
_Scuole del Sacramento,_ instituted for that purpose. To one of
these societies the friends of the defunct pay a certain sum, and the
association engages to inter the dead, and bear all the expenses of the
ceremony, the dignity of which is regulated by the priest of the parish
in which the deceased lived. The rite is now most generally undertaken
by the Scuola di San Rocco. The funeral train is of ten or twenty
facchini, wearing tunics of white, with caps and capes of red, and
bearing the society’s long, gilded candlesticks of wood with lighted
tapers. Priests follow them chanting prayers, and then comes the
bier,--with a gilt crown lying on the coffin, if the dead be a babe, to
indicate the triumph of innocence. Formerly, hired mourners attended,
and a candle, weighing a pound, was given to any one who chose to carry
it in the procession.

Anciently there was great show of mourning in Venice for the dead, when,
according to Mutinelli, the friends and kinsmen of the deceased, having
seen his body deposited in the church, “fell to weeping and howling,
tore their hair and rent their clothes, and withdrew forever from that
church, thenceforth become for them a place of abomination.” Decenter
customs prevailed in after-times, and there was a pathetic dignity in
the ceremony of condolence among patricians: the mourners, on the day
following the interment, repaired to the porticos of Rialto and the
court of the Ducal Palace, and their friends came, one after one, and
expressed their sympathy by a mute pressure of the hand.

Death, however, is hushed up as much as possible in modern Venice. The
corpse is hurried from the house of mourning to the parish church, where
the friends, after the funeral service, take leave of it. Then it is
placed in a boat and carried to the burial-ground, where it is quickly
interred. I was fortunate, therefore, in witnessing a cheerful funeral
at which I one day casually assisted at San Michele. There was a church
on this island as early as the tenth century, and in the thirteenth
century it fell into the possession of the Comandulensen Friars. They
built a monastery on it, which became famous as a seat of learning, and
gave much erudite scholarship to the world. In later times Pope Gregory
XVI. carried his profound learning from San Michele to the Vatican. The
present church is in the Renaissance style, but not very offensively so,
and has some indifferent paintings. The arcades and the courts around
which it is built contain funeral monuments as unutterably ugly and
tasteless as any thing of the kind I ever saw at home; but the dead, for
the most part, lie in graves marked merely by little iron crosses in
the narrow and roofless space walled in from the lagoon, which laps
sluggishly at the foot of the masonry with the impulses of the tide.
The old monastery was abolished in 1810, and there is now a convent of
Reformed Benedictines on the island, who perform the last service for
the dead.

On the day of which I speak, I was taking a friend to see the objects
of interest at San Michele, which I had seen before, and the funeral
procession touched at the riva of the church just as we arrived. The
procession was of one gondola only, and the pallbearers were four
pleasant ruffians in scarlet robes of cotton, hooded, and girdled at
the waist. They were accompanied by a priest of a broad and jolly
countenance, two grinning boys, and finally the corpse itself, severely
habited in an under-dress of black box, but wearing an outer garment of
red velvet, bordered and tasseled gayly. The pleasant ruffians (who all
wore smoking-caps with some other name) placed this holiday corpse upon
a bier, and after a lively dispute with our gondolier, in which the
compliments of the day were passed in the usual terms of Venetian chaff,
lifted the bier on shore and set it down. The priest followed with the
two boys, whom he rebuked for levity, simultaneously tripping over the
Latin of a prayer, with his eyes fixed on our harmless little party
as if we were a funeral, and the dead in the black box an indifferent
spectator Then he popped down upon his knees, and made us a lively
little supplication, while a blind beggar scuffled for a lost soldo
about his feet, and the gondoliers quarreled volubly. After which, he
threw off his surplice with the air of one who should say his day’s work
was done, and preceded the coffin into the church.

We had hardly deposited the bier upon the floor in the centre of the
nave, when two pale young friars appeared, throwing off their hooded
cloaks of coarse brown, as they passed to the sacristy, and reappearing
in their rope-girdled gowns. One of them bore a lighted taper in his
right hand and a book in his left; the other had also a taper, but a pot
of holy water instead of the book.

They are very handsome young men, these monks, with heavy, sad eyes,
and graceful, slender figures, which their monastic life will presently
overload with gross humanity full of coarse appetites. They go and stand
beside the bier, giving a curious touch of solemnity to a scene composed
of the four pleasant ruffians in the loaferish postures which they have
learned as facchini waiting for jobs; of the two boys with inattentive
grins, and of the priest with wandering eyes, kneeling behind them.

A weak, thin-voiced organ pipes huskily from its damp loft: the monk
hurries rapidly over the Latin text of the service, while

    “His breath to heaven like vapor goes”

on the chilly, humid air; and the other monk makes the responses,
giving and taking the sprinkler, which his chief shakes vaguely in the
direction of the coffin. They both bow their heads--shaven down to the
temples, to simulate His crown of thorns. Silence. The organ is still,
the priest has vanished; the tapers are blown out; the pall-bearers lay
hold of the bier, and raise it to their shoulders; the boys slouch into
procession behind them; the monks glide softly and dispiritedly away.
The soul is prepared for eternal life, and the body for the grave.

The ruffians are expansively gay on reaching the open air again. They
laugh, they call “Ciò!” [Footnote: Literally, _That_ in Italian, and
meaning in Venetian, _You! Heigh!_ To talk in _Ciò ciappa_ is to assume
insolent familiarity or unbounded good fellowship with the person
addressed. A Venetian says _Ciò_ a thousand times in a day, and hails
every one but his superior in that way. I think it is hardly the Italian
pronoun, but rather a contraction of _Veccio_ (vecchio), _Old fellow!_
It is common with all classes of the people: parents use it in speaking
to their children, and brothers and sisters call one mother _Ciò_. It
is a salutation between friends, who cry out, _Ciò!_ as they pass in the
street. Acquaintances, men who meet after separation, rush together
with _“Ah Ciò!”_ Then they kiss on the right cheek _“Ciò!”_ on the left,
_“Ciò!”_ on the lips, _“Ciò! Bon di Ciò!”_] continually, and banter each
other as they trot to the grave.

The boys follow them, gamboling among the little iron crosses, and
trying if here and there one of them may not be overthrown.

We two strangers follow the boys.

But here the pall-bearers become puzzled: on the right is an open
trench, on the left is an open trench.

“Presence of the Devil! To which grave does this dead belong?” They
discuss, they dispute, they quarrel.

From the side of the wall, as if he rose from the sea, appears the grave
digger, with his shovel on his shoulder--slouching toward us.

“Ah heigh! Ciò, the grave-digger! Where does this dead belong?”

“Body of Bacchus, what potatoes! Here, in this trench to the right.”

They set down the bier there, gladly. They strip away the coffin’s gay
upper garment; they leave but the under-dress of black box, painted to
that favor with pitch. They shove it into the grave-digger’s arms, where
he stands in the trench, in the soft earth, rich with bones. He lets it
slide swiftly to the ground--thump! _Ecco fatto!_

The two boys pick up the empty bier, and dance merrily away with it
to the riva-gate, feigning a little play after the manner of
children,--“Oh, what a beautiful dead!”

The eldest of the pleasant ruffians is all the pleasanter for
_sciampagnin_, and can hardly be persuaded to go out at the right gate.

We strangers stay behind a little, to consult with mother spectator--
Venetian, this. “Who is the dead man, signore?”

“It is a woman, poor little thing! Dead in child-bed. The baby is in
there with her.”

It has been a cheerful funeral, and yet we are not in great spirits as
we go back to the city.

For my part, I do not think the cry of sea-gulls on a gloomy day is
a joyous sound; and the sight of those theatrical angels, with their
shameless, unfinished backs, flying off the top of the rococo façade of
the church of the Jesuits, has always been a spectacle to fill me with
despondency and foreboding.



On a small canal, not far from the railroad station, the gondoliers
show you a house, by no means notable (except for the noble statue of
a knight, occupying a niche in one corner), as the house of Othello. It
was once the palace of the patrician family Moro, a name well known in
the annals of the Republic, and one which, it has been suggested, misled
Shakespeare into the invention of a Moor of Venice. Whether this
is possibly the fact, or whether there is any tradition of a tragic
incident in the history of the Moro family similar to that upon which
the play is founded, I do not know; but it is certain that the story
of Othello, very nearly as Shakespeare tells it, is popularly known in
Venice; and the gondoliers have fixed upon the Casa Moro in question as
the edifice best calculated to give satisfaction to strangers in search
of the True and the Memorable. The statue is happily darkened by time,
and thus serves admirably to represent Othello’s complexion, and to
place beyond the shadow of a doubt the fact of his residence in the
house. Indeed, what can you say to the gondolier, who, in answer to your
cavils, points to the knight, with the convincing argument, “There is
his statue!”

One day I was taken to see this house, in company with some friends, and
when it had been victoriously pointed out, as usual, we asked meekly,
“Who was Othello?”

“Othello, Signori,” answered the gondolier, “was a general of
the Republic, in the old times. He was an African, and black; but
nevertheless the State valued him, and he beat the Turks in many
battles. Well, Signori, this general Othello had a very young and
beautiful wife, and his wife’s cousin (_sic!_), Cassio was his
major-domo, or, as some say, his lieutenant. But after a while happens
along (_capita_) another soldier of Othello, who wants Cassio’s
employment, and so accuses him to the general of corrupting his wife.
Very well, Signori! Without thinking an instant, Othello, being made so,
flew into a passion (_si riscaldò là tèsta_), and killed his wife; and
then when her innocence came out, he killed himself and that liar; and
the State confiscated his goods, he being a very rich man. There has
been a tragedy written about all this, you know.”

“But how is it called? Who wrote it?”

“Oh! in regard to that, then, I don’t know. Some Englishman.”


“I don’t know, Signori. But if you doubt what I tell you, go to any
bookseller, and say, ‘Favor me with the tragedy of “Othello.”’ He will
give it you, and there you will find it all written out just as I tell

This gondolier confirmed the authenticity of his story, by showing us
the house of Cassio near the Rialto Bridge, and I have no doubt he would
also have pointed out that of Iago if we had wished it.

But as a general thing, the lore of the gondoliers is not rich nor very
great. They are a loquacious and a gossiping race, but they love better
to have a quiet chat at the tops of their voices, as they loaf idly at
the ferries, or to scream repartees across the Grand Canal, than to tell
stories. In all history that relates to localities they are sufficiently
versed to find the notable places for strangers, but beyond this they
trouble themselves as little with the past as with the future. Three
tragic legends, however, they know, and will tell with the most amusing
effect, namely: Biasio, _luganegher_; the Innocent Baker-Boy, and
Veneranda Porta.

The first of these legends is that of a sausage-maker who flourished
in Venice some centuries ago, and who improved the quality of the broth
which the _luganegheri_ make of their scraps and sell to the gondoliers,
by cutting up into it now and then a child of some neighbor. He was
finally detected by a gondolier who discovered a little finger in his
broth, and being brought to justice, was dragged through the city at the
heels of a wild horse. This most uncomfortable character appears to
be the first hero in the romance of the gondoliers, and he certainly
deserves to rank with that long line of imaginary personages who have
made childhood so wretched and tractable. The second is the Innocent
Baker-Boy already named, who was put to death on suspicion of having
murdered a noble, because in the dead man’s heart was found a dagger
fitting a sheath which the baker had picked up in the street, on
the morning of the murder, and kept in his possession. Many years
afterwards, a malefactor who died in Padua confessed the murder, and
thereupon two lamps were lighted before a shrine in the southern façade
of St. Mark’s Church,--one for the murdered nobleman’s soul, and the
other for that of the innocent boy. Such is the gondoliers’ story, and
the lamps still burn every night before the shrine from dark till
dawn, in witness of its truth. The fact of the murder and its guiltless
expiation is an incident of Venetian history, and it is said that the
Council of the Ten never pronounced a sentence of death thereafter, till
they had been solemnly warned by one of their number with _“Ricordatevi
del povero Fornaretto!”_ (Remember the poor Baker-Boy!) The poet Dall
‘Ongaro has woven the story into a beautiful and touching tragedy; but I
believe the poet is still to be born who shall take from the gondoliers
their Veneranda Porta, and place her historic figure in dramatic
literature. Veneranda Porta was a lady of the days of the Republic,
between whom and her husband existed an incompatibility. This was
increased by the course of Signora Porta in taking a lover, and it at
last led to the assassination of the husband by the paramours. The head
of the murdered man was found in one of the canals, and being exposed,
as the old custom was, upon the granite pedestal at the corner of St.
Mark’s Church, it was recognized by his brother who found among the
papers on which the long hair was curled fragments of a letter he had
written to the deceased. The crime was traced to the paramours, and
being brought before the Ten, they were both condemned to be hanged
between the columns of the Piazzetta. The gondoliers relate that when
the sentence was pronounced, Veneranda said to the Chief of the Ten,
“But as for me this sentence will never be carried out. You cannot hang
a woman. Consider the impropriety!” The Venetian rulers were wise men
in their generation, and far from being balked by this question of
delicacy, the Chief replied, solving it, “My dear, you shall be hanged
in my breeches.”

It is very coarse salt which keeps one of these stories; another is
remembered because it concerns one of the people; and another for its
abomination and horror. The incidents of Venetian history which take the
fancy and touch the sensibility of the world seem hardly known to the
gondoliers, the most intelligent and quick-witted of the populace, and
themselves the very stuff that some romantic dreams of Venice are made
of. However sad the fact, it is undeniable that the stories of the
sausage-maker whose broth was flavored with murder, and the baker-boy
who suffered guiltlessly, and that savage jest at the expense of the
murderess, interest these people more than the high-well-born sorrows
of the Foscari, the tragic fate of Carmagnola, or the story of
Falier,--which last they know partly, however, because of the scandal
about Falier’s wife. Yet after all, though the gondoliers are not
the gondoliers of imaginative literature, they have qualities which
recommended them to my liking, and I look back upon my acquaintance
with two or three of them in a very friendly spirit. Compared with
the truculent hackmen, who prey upon the traveling public in all other
cities of the civilized world, they are eminently intelligent and
amiable. Rogues they are, of course, for small dishonesties are the
breath in the nostrils of common carriers by land or water, everywhere;
but the trickery of the gondoliers is so good-natured and simple that
it can hardly offend. A very ordinary jocular sagacity defeats their
profoundest purposes of swindling, and no one enjoys their exposure
half so much as themselves, while a faint prospect of future employment
purifies them of every trait of dishonesty. I had only one troublesome
experience with them, and that was in the case of the old gondolier who
taught me to row. He, when I had no longer need of his services, plunged
into drunkenness, and came and dismissed me one day with every mark of
ignominy. But he afterwards forgave me, and saluted me kindly when we

The immediate goal of every gondolier’s ambition is to serve, no matter
for how short a time, an Inglese, by which generic title nearly all
foreigners except Germans are known to him. The Inglese, whether he
be English or American, is apt to make the tour of the whole city in
a gondola, and to give handsome drink money at the end, whereas your
Tedesco frugally walks to every place accessible by land, or when, in
a party of six or eight, he takes a gondola, plants himself upon the
letter of the tariff, and will give no more than the rate fixed by law.
The gondolier is therefore flowingly polite to the Inglese, and he is
even civil to the Tedesco; but he is not at all bound in courtesy to
that provincial Italian who comes from the country to Venice, bargains
furiously for his boat, and commonly pays under the tariff. The Venetian
who does not himself keep a gondola seldom hires one, and even on this
rare occasion makes no lavish demand such as “How much do you want for
taking me to the rail-way station?” Lest the fervid imagination of the
gondolier rise to zwanzigers and florins, and a tedious dispute ensue,
he asks: “How many centissimi do you want?” and the contract is made,
for a number of soldi.

The number of private gondolas owned in Venice is not very great. The
custom is rather to hire a gondolier with his boat. The exclusive use of
the gondola is thus secured, and the gondolier gives his services as a
domestic when off his special duty. He waits at table, goes marketing,
takes the children to school, and serves the ladies as footman, for five
francs a day, himself paying the proprietor of the gondola about a
franc daily for the boat. In former times, when Venice was rich and
prosperous, many noble families kept six or seven gondolas; and what
with this service, and the numerous gala-days of the Republic, when the
whole city took boat for the Lido, or the Giudecca, or Murano, and
the gondoliers were allowed to exact any pay they could, they were a
numerous and prosperous class. But these times have passed from Venice
forever, and though the gondoliers are still, counting the boatmen of
the Giudecca and Lido, some thousands in number, there are comparatively
few young men among them, and their gains are meagre.

In the little city of Venice, where the dialect spoken at Canareggio or
Castello is a different tongue from that heard under the Procuratie of
St. Mark’s Place, the boatmen of the several quarters of the city of
course vary greatly in character and appearance; and the gondolier who
lounges at the base of the columns of the Piazzetta, and airily invites
the Inglesi to tours of the Grand Canal, is of quite a different type
from the weather-beaten _barcaiuolo_, who croaks _“Barca!”_ at the
promenaders on the Zattere. But all, as I say, are simple and harmless
enough, and however loudly they quarrel among themselves, they never
pass from the defamation of their female relatives to blows. As for
the game of knives, as it is said to be played at Naples, and as About
describes it at Rome, I doubt if it is much known to the populace of
Venice. Only the doctors let blood there--though from their lancets it
flows pretty freely and constantly.

It is true that the gondolier loves best of everything a clamorous
quarrel, carried on with the canal between him and his antagonist; but
next to this, he loves to spend his leisure at the ferry in talking
of eating and of money, and he does not differ from many of his
fellow-citizens in choice of topics. I have seldom caught a casual
expression from passers in the streets of Venice which did not relate
in some way to gold Napoleons, zwanzigers, florins, or soldi, or else
to wine and polenta. I note this trait in the Venetians, which Goldoni
observed in the Milanese a hundred years ago, and which I incline to
believe is common to all Italians. The gondoliers talk a great deal in
figure and hyperbole, and their jocose chaff is quite inscrutable even
to some classes of Venetians. With foreigners, to whom the silence and
easy progress of the gondola gives them the opportunity to talk, they
are fond of using a word or two of French. They are quick at repartee,
and have a clever answer ready for most occasions. I was one day
bargaining for a boat to the Lido, whither I refused to be taken in
a shabby gondola, or at a rate higher than seventy-five soldi for the
trip. At last the patience of the gondoliers was exhausted, and one of
them called out, “Somebody fetch the Bucintoro, and take this
gentleman to the Lido for seventy-five soldi!” (The Bucintoro being the
magnificent barge in which the Doge went to wed the Adriatic.)

The skill with which the gondoliers manage their graceful craft is
always admired by strangers, and is certainly remarkable. The gondola is
very long and slender, and rises high from the water at either end. Both
bow and stern are sharp, the former being ornamented with that deeply
serrated blade of steel, which it is the pride of the gondolier to keep
bright is silver, and the poop having a small platform, not far behind
the cabin, on which he stands when he rows. The danger of collision has
always obliged Venetian boatmen to face the bow, and the stroke with the
oar (for the gondolier uses only a single oar) is made by pushing, and
not by pulling. No small degree of art (as I learnt from experience)
is thus required to keep the gondola’s head straight,--all the strokes
being made on one side,--and the sculling return of the oar-blade,
preparatory for each new stroke, is extremely difficult to effect. Under
the hands of the gondolier, however, the gondola seems a living thing,
full of grace and winning movement. The wood-work of the little cabin is
elaborately carved, and it is usually furnished with mirrors and seats
luxuriously cushioned. The sensation of the gondola’s progress, felt by
the occupant of the cabin, as he falls back upon these cushions, may be
described, to the female apprehension at least, as “_too_ divine.” The
cabin is removable at pleasure, and is generally taken off and replaced
by awnings in summer. But in the evening, when the fair Venetians go out
in their gondolas to take the air, even this awning is dispensed with,
and the long slender boat glides darkly down the Grand Canal, bearing
its dazzling freight of white _tulle_, pale-faced, black-eyed beauty,
and flashing jewels, in full view.

As for the singing of the gondoliers, they are the only class of
Venetians who have not good voices, and I am scarcely inclined to regret
the silence which long ago fell upon them. I am quite satisfied with the
peculiar note of warning which they utter as they approach the corner of
a canal, and which meaning simply, “To the Right,” or “To the Left,” is
the most pathetic and melancholy sound in the world. If, putting
aside my own comfort, I have sometimes wished for the sake of a dear,
sentimental old friend at home, who loves such idle illusions with an
ardor unbecoming his years, that I might hear the voice

    “of Adria’s gondolier,
    By distance mellowed, o’er the waters sweep,”

I must still confess that I never did hear it under similar
circumstances, except in conversation across half a mile of lagoon,
when, as usual, the burden of the lay was polenta or soldi.

A recent Venetian writer, describing the character of the lower classes
of Venice, says: “No one can deny that our populace is loquacious
and quickwitted; but, on the other hand, no one can deny that it
is regardless of improvement. Venice, a city exceptional in its
construction, its customs, and its habits, has also an exceptional
populace. It still feels, although sixty-eight years have passed, the
influence of the system of the fallen Republic, of that oligarchic
government, which, affording almost every day some amusement to the
people, left them no time to think of their offended rights.... Since
1859 Venice has resembled a sepulchre of the living,--squalor and
beggary gaining ground with each day, and commerce, with few exceptions,
converted into monopoly; yet the populace remains attached to its old
habits, and will have its pleasure. If the earnings are little, what
then? Must one die of ennui? The caffè is depopulated: not so the
drinking-house. The last day before the drawing of the lottery, the
offices are thronged with fathers and mothers of families, who stint
their children of bread to buy dearly a few hours of golden illusion....
At the worst, there is the Monte di Pietà, as a last resort.”

It is true, as this writer says, that the pleasure-loving populace still
looks back fondly to the old Republican times of feasting and holidays;
but there is certainly no truth any more in the old idea that any part
of Italy is a place where people may be “idle with impunity,” or make
amusement the serious business of life. I can remember that the book
from which I received my first impressions of geography was illuminated
with a picture professing to represent Italian customs. The spirit of
inquiry had long before caused me to doubt the exact fidelity of this
representation; but it cost me a pang to learn that the picture was
utterly delusive. It has been no part of my experience in Venice to see
an Italian sitting upon the ground, and strumming the guitar, while two
gayly dressed peasants danced to the music. Indeed, the indolence
of Venetians is listless and silent, not playful or joyous; and as I
learned to know their life more intimately, I came to understand that
in many cases they are idle from despair of finding work, and that
indolence is as much their fate as their fault. Any diligence of theirs
is surprising to us of northern and free lands, because their climate
subdues and enervates us, and because we can see before them no career
open to intelligent industry. With the poorest, work is necessarily
a hand-to-hand struggle against hunger; with those who would not
absolutely starve without it, work is an inexplicable passion.

Partly because the ways of these people are so childlike and simple in
many things, and partly from one’s own swindling tendency to take one’s
self in (a tendency really fatal to all sincerity of judgment, and
incalculably mischievous to such downfallen peoples as have felt the
baleful effects of the world’s sentimental, impotent sympathy), there is
something pathetic in the patient content with which Italians work. They
have naturally so large a capacity for enjoyment, that the degree of
selfdenial involved in labor seems exorbitant, and one feels that these
children, so loved of Nature, and so gifted by her, are harshly dealt
with by their stepmother Circumstance. No doubt there ought to be
truth in the silly old picture, if there is none, and I would willingly
make-believe to credit it, if I could. I am glad that they at least work
in old-world, awkward, picturesque ways, and not in commonplace, handy,
modern fashion. Neither the habits nor the implements of labor are
changed since the progress of the Republic ceased, and her heart
began to die within her. All sorts of mechanics’ tools are clumsy and
inconvenient: the turner’s lathe moves by broken impulses; door-hinges
are made to order, and lift the door from the ground as it opens upon
them; all nails and tacks we hand-made; window-sashes are contrived to
be glazed without putty, and the panes are put in from the top, so that
to repair a broken glass the whole sash is taken apart; cooking-stoves
are unknown to the native cooks, who work at an open fire, with crane
and dangling pot-hooks; furniture is put together with wooden pegs
instead of screws; you do not buy a door-lock at a hardware store,--you
get a _fabbro_ to make it, and he comes with a leathern satchel full
of tools to fit and finish it on the door. The wheelbarrow of this
civilization is peculiarly wonderful in construction, with a prodigious
wooden wheel, and a ponderous, incapable body. The canals are dredged
with scoops mounted on long poles, and manned each by three or four
Chiozzotti. There never was a pile-driving machine known in Venice;
nor a steam-tug in all the channels of the lagoons, through which the
largest craft are towed to and from the ports by row-boats. In the model
of the sea-going vessels there has apparently been little change from
the first. Yet in spite of all this backwardness in invention, the city
is full of beautiful workmanship in every branch of artificing, and the
Venetians are still the best sailors in the Adriatic.

I do not offer the idea as a contribution to statistics, but it seems to
me that the most active branch of industry in Venice is plucking fowls.
In summer the people all work on their thresholds, and in their windows,
and as nearly out of doors as the narrowness of the streets will let
them,--and it is hard to pass through any part of the city without
coming to a poulterer’s shop, in the door of which inevitably sits a
boy, tugging at the plumage of some wretched bird. He is seldom to be
seen except in that crisis of plucking when he seems to have all but
finished; yet he seems never to accomplish the fact perfectly. Perhaps
it is part of his hard fate that the feathers shall grow again under
his hand as fast as he plucks them away: at the restaurants, I know,
the quantity of plumage one devours in consuming roast chicken is
surprising--at first. The birds are always very lean, too, and have but
a languid and weary look, in spite of the ardent manner in which the boy
clasps them while at work. It may be that the Venetians do not like
fat poultry. Their turkeys, especially, are of that emaciation which
is attributed among ourselves only to the turkey of Job; and as for the
geese and ducks, they can only interest anatomists. It is as if the long
ages of incursion and oppression which have impoverished and devastated
Italy had at last taken effect upon the poultry, and made it as poor as
the population.

I do not want to give too exclusive an impression of Venetian industry,
however, for now I remember the Venetian _lasagnoni_, whom I never saw
doing any thing, and who certainly abound in respectable numbers.

The lasagnone is a loafer, as an Italian can be a loafer, without the
admixture of ruffianism, which blemishes most loafers of northern race.
He may be quite worthless, and even impertinent, but he cannot be
a rowdy,--that pleasing blossom on the nose of our fast, high-fed,
thick-blooded civilization. In Venice he must not be confounded with
other loiterers at the caffè; not with the natty people who talk
politics interminably over little cups of black coffee; not with those
old habitués, who sit forever under the Procuratie, their hands folded
upon the tops of their sticks, and staring at the ladies who pass with
a curious steadfastness and knowing skepticism of gaze, not pleasing in
the dim eyes of age; certainly, the last persons who bear any likeness
to the lasagnone are the Germans, with their honest, heavy faces
comically anglicized by leg-of-mutton whiskers. The truth is, the
lasagnone does not flourish in the best caffè; he comes to perfection
in cheaper resorts, for he is commonly not rich. It often happens that a
glass of water, flavored with a little anisette, is the order over which
he sits a whole evening. He knows the waiter intimately, and does not
call him “Shop!” (Bottega,) as less familiar people do, but Gigi, or
Beppi, as the waiter is pretty sure to be named. “Behold!” he says, when
the servant places his modest drink before him, “who is that loveliest
blonde there?” Or to his fellow-lasagnone: “She regards me! I have
broken her the heart!” This is his sole business and mission, the cruel
lasagnone--to break ladies the heart. He spares no condition,--neither
rank nor wealth is any defense against him. I often wonder what is in
that note he continually shows to his friend. The confession of some
broken heart, I think. When he has folded it, and put it away, he
chuckles _“Ah, cara!”_ and sucks at his long, slender Virginia cigar.
It is unlighted, for fire consumes cigars. I never see him read the
papers,--neither the Italian papers nor the Parisian journals, though
if he can get “Galignani” he is glad, and he likes to pretend to a
knowledge of English, uttering upon occasion, with great relish, such
distinctively English words as “Yes” and “Not,” and to the waiter,
“A-little-fire-if-you-please.” He sits very late in the caffè, and he
touches his hat--his curly French hat--to the company as he goes out
with a mild swagger, his cane held lightly in his left hand, his coat
cut snugly to show his hips, and genteelly swaying with the motion of
his body. He is a dandy, of course,--all Italians are dandies,--but his
vanity is perfectly harmless, and his heart is not bad. He would go
half an hour out of his way to put you in the direction of the Piazza. A
little thing can make him happy,--to stand in the pit at the opera, and
gaze at the ladies in the lower boxes--to attend the Marionette, or
the Malibran Theatre, and imperil the peace of pretty seamstresses and
contadinas--to stand at the church doors and ogle the fair saints as
they pass out. Go, harmless lasagnone, to thy lodging in some mysterious
height, and break hearts if thou wilt. They are quickly mended.

Of other vagabonds in Venice, if I had my choice, I think I must select
a certain ruffian who deals in dog-flesh, as the nearest my ideal of
what a vagabond should be in all respects. He stands habitually under
the Old Procuratie, beside a basket of small puppies in that snuffling
and quivering state which appears to be the favorite condition of very
young dogs, and occupies himself in conversation with an adjacent dealer
in grapes and peaches, or sometimes fastidiously engages in trimming the
hair upon the closely shaven bodies of the dogs; for in Venice it is the
ambition of every dog to look as much like the Lion of St. Mark as the
nature of the case will permit. My vagabond at times makes expeditions
to the groups of travelers always seated in summer before the Caffè
Florian, appearing at such times with a very small puppy,--neatly poised
upon the palm of his hand, and winking pensively,--which he advertises
to the company as a “Beautiful Beast,” or a “Lovely Babe,” according to
the inspiration of his light and pleasant fancy. I think the latter term
is used generally as a means of ingratiation with the ladies, to whom my
vagabond always shows a demeanor of agreeable gallantry. I never saw him
sell any of these dogs, nor ever in the least cast down by his failure
to do so. His air is grave, but not severe; there is even, at times, a
certain playfulness in his manner, possibly attributable to sciampagnin.
His curling black locks, together with his velveteen jacket and
pantaloons, are oiled and glossy, and his beard is cut in the
French-imperial mode. His personal presence is unwholesome, and it is
chiefly his moral perfection as a vagabond that makes him fascinating.
One is so confident, however, of his fitness for his position and
business, and of his entire contentment with it, that it is impossible
not to exult in him.

He is not without self-respect. I doubt, it would be hard to find any
Venetian of any vocation, however base, who forgets that he too is a
man and a brother. There is enough servility in the language,--it is the
fashion of the Italian tongue, with its _Tu_ for inferiors, _Voi_ for
intimates and friendly equals, and _Lei_ for superiors,--but in the
manner there is none, and there is a sense of equality in the ordinary
intercourse of the Venetians, at once apparent to foreigners.

All ranks are orderly; the spirit of aggression seems not to exist among
them, and the very boys and dogs in Venice are so well-behaved, that I
have never seen the slightest disposition in them to quarrel. Of course,
it is of the street-boy--the _biricchino_, the boy in his natural,
unreclaimed state--that I speak. This state is here, in winter, marked
by a clouded countenance, bare head, tatters, and wooden-soled shoes
open at the heels; in summer by a preternatural purity of person, by
abandon to the amphibious pleasure of leaping off the bridges into the
canals, and by an insatiable appetite for polenta, fried minnows, and

When one of these boys takes to beggary, as a great many of them do, out
of a spirit of adventure and wish to pass the time, he carries out the
enterprise with splendid daring. A favorite artifice is to approach
Charity with a slice of polenta in one hand, and, with the other
extended, implore a soldo to buy cheese to eat with the polenta. The
street-boys also often perform the duties of the _gransieri_, who draw
your gondola to shore, and keep it firm with a hook. To this order
of beggar I usually gave; but one day at the railway station I had
no soldi, and as I did not wish to render my friend discontented with
future alms by giving silver, I deliberately apologized, praying him to
excuse me, and promising him for another time. I cannot forget the lofty
courtesy with which he returned,--“_S’accomodi pur, Signor!_” They have
sometimes a sense of humor, these poor swindlers, and can enjoy the
exposure of their own enormities. An amiable rogue drew our gondola to
land one evening when we went too late to see the church of San Giorgio
Maggiore. The sacristan made us free of a perfectly dark church, and we
rewarded him as if it had been noonday. On our return to the gondola,
the same beggar whom we had just feed held out his hat for another
alms. “But we have just paid you,” we cried in an agony of grief and
desperation. _“Sì, signori!”_ he admitted with an air of argument, _“è
vero. Ma, la chiesa!”_ (Yes, gentlemen, it is true. But the church!) he
added with confidential insinuation, and a patronizing wave of the hand
toward the edifice, as if he had been San Giorgio himself, and held the
church as a source of revenue. This was too much, and we laughed him to
scorn; at which, beholding the amusing abomination of his conduct, he
himself joined in our laugh with a cheerfulness that won our hearts.

Beggary is attended by no disgrace in Italy, and it therefore comes that
no mendicant is without a proper degree of the self-respect common to
all classes. Indeed, the habit of taking gifts of money is so general
and shameless that the street beggars must be diffident souls indeed if
they hesitated to ask for it. A perfectly well-dressed and well-mannered
man will take ten soldi from you for a trifling service, and not
consider himself in the least abased. The detestable custom of largess,
instead of wages, still obtains in so great degree in Venice that a
physician, when asked for his account, replies: “What you please to
give.” Knowing these customs, I hope I have never acted discourteously
to the street beggars of Venice even when I gave them nothing, and I
know that only one of them ever so far forgot himself as to curse me for
not giving. Him, however, I think to have been out of his right mind at
the time.

There were two mad beggars in the parish of San Stefano, whom I should
be sorry to leave unmentioned here. One, who presided chiefly over the
Campo San Stefano, professed to be also a facchino, but I never saw him
employed, except in addressing select circles of idlers whom a brawling
noise always draws together in Venice. He had been a soldier, and he
sometimes put himself at the head of a file of Croats passing through
the campo, and gave them the word of command, to the great amusement of
those swarthy barbarians. He was a good deal in drink, and when in this
state was proud to go before any ladies who might be passing, and clear
away the boys and idlers, to make room for them. When not occupied in
any of these ways, he commonly slept in the arcades of the old convent.

But the mad beggar of Campo Sant’ Angelo seemed to have a finer sense
of what became him as a madman and a beggar, and never made himself
obnoxious by his noise. He was, in fact, very fat and amiable, and in
the summer lay asleep, for the most part, at a certain street corner
which belonged to him. When awake he was a man of extremely complaisant
presence, and suffered no lady to go by without a compliment to her
complexion, her blond hair, or her beautiful eyes, whichever it might
be. He got money for these attentions, and people paid him for any
sort of witticism. One day he said to the richest young dandy of the
city,--“Pah! you stomach me with your perfumes and fine airs;” for which
he received half a florin. His remarks to gentlemen had usually this
sarcastic flavor. I am sorry to say that so excellent a madman was often
drunk and unable to fulfill his duties to society.

There are, of course, laws against mendicancy in Venice, and they are,
of course, never enforced. Beggars abound everywhere, and nobody molests
them. There was long a troop of weird sisters in Campo San Stefano,
who picked up a livelihood from the foreigners passing to and from the
Academy of Fine Arts. They addressed people with the title of Count,
and no doubt gained something by this sort of heraldry, though there
are counts in Venice almost as poor as themselves, and titles are
not distinctions. The Venetian seldom gives to beggars; he says
deliberately, “_No go_” (I have nothing), or “_Quando ritornerò_” (when
I return), and never comes back that way. I noticed that professional
hunger and cold took this sort of denial very patiently, as they did
every other; but I confess I had never the heart to practice it. In
my walks to the Public Gardens there was a venerable old man, with the
beard and bearing of a patriarch, whom I encountered on the last bridge
of the Riva, and who there asked alms of me. When I gave him a soldo,
he returned me a blessing which I would be ashamed to take in the United
States for half a dollar; and when the soldo was in some inaccessible
pocket, and I begged him to await my coming back, he said
sweetly,--“Very well, Signor, I will be here.” And I must say, to his
credit, that he never broke his promise, nor suffered me, for shame’s
sake, to break mine. He was quite a treasure to me in this respect, and
assisted me to form habits of punctuality.

That exuberance of manner which one notes, the first thing, in his
intercourse with Venetians, characterizes all classes, but is most
excessive and relishing in the poor. There is a vast deal of ceremony
with every order, and one hardly knows what to do with the numbers of
compliments it is necessary to respond to. A Venetian does not come to
see you, he comes to revere you; he not only asks if you be well when
he meets you, but he bids you remain well at parting, and desires you to
salute for him all common friends; he reverences you at leave-taking;
he will sometimes consent to incommode you with a visit; he will relieve
you of the disturbance when he rises to go. All spontaneous wishes
which must, with us, take original forms, for lack of the complimentary
phrase, are formally expressed by him,--good appetite to you, when you
go to dinner much enjoyment, when you go to the theatre; a pleasant
walk, if you meet in promenade. He is your servant at meeting and
parting; he begs to be commanded when he has misunderstood you. But
courtesy takes its highest flights, as I hinted, from the poorest
company. Acquaintances of this sort, when not on the _Ciò ciappa_
footing, or that of the familiar thee and thou, always address each
other in _Lei_ (lordship), or _Elo_, as the Venetians have it; and their
compliment-making at encounter and separation is endless: I salute you!
Remain well! Master! Mistress! (_Paron! parona!_) being repeated as long
as the polite persons are within hearing.

One day, as we passed through the crowded Merceria, an old Venetian
friend of mine, who trod upon the dress of a young person before us,
called out, “_Scusate, bella giovane_!” (Pardon, beautiful girl!) She
was not so fair nor so young as I have seen women; but she half turned
her face with a forgiving smile, and seemed pleased with the accident
that had won her the amiable apology. The waiter of the caffè frequented
by the people, says to the ladies for whom he places seats,--“Take
this place, beautiful blonde;” or, “Sit here, lovely brunette,” as it

A Venetian who enters or leaves any place of public resort touches his
hat to the company, and one day at the restaurant some ladies, who had
been dining there, said “_Complimenti!_” on going out, with a grace that
went near to make the beefsteak tender. It is this uncostly gentleness
of bearing which gives a winning impression of the whole people,
whatever selfishness or real discourtesy lie beneath it. At home it
sometimes seems that we are in such haste to live and be done with it,
we have no time to be polite. Or is popular politeness merely a vice of
servile peoples? And is it altogether better to be rude? I wish it were
not. If you are lost in his city (and you are pretty sure to be lost
there, continually), a Venetian will go with you wherever you wish.
And he will do this amiable little service out of what one may say old
civilization has established in place of goodness of heart, but which is
perhaps not so different from it.

You hear people in the streets bless each other in the most dramatic
fashion. I once caught these parting words between an old man and a
young girl;

_Giovanetta_. Revered sir! (_Patron riverito!_)

_Vecchio_. (With that peculiar backward wave and beneficent wag of the
hand, only possible to Italians.) Blessed child! (_Benedetta!_)

It was in a crowd, but no one turned round at the utterance of terms
which Anglo-Saxons would scarcely use in their most emotional moments.
The old gentleman who sells boxes for the theatre in the Old Procuratie
always gave me his benediction when I took a box.

There is equal exuberance of invective, and I have heard many fine
maledictions on the Venetian streets, but I recollect none more
elaborate than that of a gondolier who, after listening peacefully to
a quarrel between two other boatmen, suddenly took part against one of
them, and saluted him with,--“Ah! baptized son of a dog! And if I had
been present at thy baptism, I would have dashed thy brains out against
the baptismal font!”

All the theatrical forms of passion were visible in a scene I witnessed
in a little street near San Samuele, where I found the neighborhood
assembled at doors and windows in honor of a wordy battle between
two poor women. One of these had been forced in-doors by her prudent
husband, and the other upbraided her across the marital barrier. The
assailant was washing, and twenty times she left her tub to revile the
besieged, who thrust her long arms out over those of her husband, and
turned each reproach back upon her who uttered it, thus:--

_Assailant_. Beast!

_Besieged_. Thou!

_A_. Fool!

_B_. Thou!

_A_. Liar!

_B_. Thou!

_E via in seguito!_ At last the assailant, beating her breast with both
hands, and tempestuously swaying her person back and forth, wreaked her
scorn in one wild outburst of vituperation, and returned finally to
her tub, wisely saying, on the purple verge of asphyxiation, “_O, non
discorre più con gente_.”

I returned half an hour later, and she was laughing and playing sweetly
with her babe.

It suits the passionate nature of the Italians to have incredible ado
about buying and selling, and a day’s shopping is a sort of campaign,
from which the shopper returns plundered and discomfited, or laden with
the spoil of vanquished shopmen.

The embattled commercial transaction is conducted in this wise:

The shopper enters, and prices a given article. The shopman names a
sum of which only the fervid imagination of the South could conceive as
corresponding to the value of the goods.

The purchaser instantly starts back with a wail of horror and
indignation, and the shopman throws himself forward over the counter
with a protest that, far from being dear, the article is ruinously cheap
at the price stated, though they may nevertheless agree for something

What, then, is the very most ultimate price?

Properly, the very most ultimate price is so much. (Say, the smallest
trifle under the price first asked.)

The purchaser moves toward the door. He comes back, and offers one third
of the very most ultimate price.

The shopman, with a gentle desperation, declares that the thing cost
him as much. He cannot really take the offer. He regrets, but he cannot.
That the gentleman would say something more! So much--for example. That
he regard the stuff, its quality, fashion, beauty.

The gentleman laughs him to scorn. Ah, heigh! and, coming forward, he
picks up the article and reviles it. Out of the mode, old, fragile, ugly
of its kind. The shopman defends his wares. There is no such quantity
and quality elsewhere in Venice. But if the gentleman will give even so
much (still something preposterous), he may have it, though truly its
sale for that money is utter ruin.

The shopper walks straight to the door. The shopman calls him back from
the threshold, or sends his boy to call him back from the street.

Let him accommodate himself--which is to say, take the thing at his own

He takes it.

The shopman says cheerfully, “Servo suo!”

The purchaser responds, “Bon dì! Patron!” (Good day! my Master!)

Thus, as I said, every bargain is a battle, and every purchase a triumph
or a defeat. The whole thing is understood; the opposing forces know
perfectly well all that is to be done beforehand, and retire after the
contest, like the captured knights in “_Morgante Maggiore_” “calm as
oil,”--however furious and deadly their struggle may have appeared to

Foreigners soon discern, however, that there is no bloodshed in such
encounters, and enter into them with a zeal as great as that of natives,
though with less skill. I knew one American who prided himself on such
matters, and who haughtily closed a certain bargain without words, as he
called it. The shopman offered several articles, for which he demanded
prices amounting in all to ninety-three francs. His wary customer
rapidly computed the total and replied “Without words, now, I’ll give
you a hundred francs for the lot.” With a pensive elevation of the
eyebrows, and a reluctant shrug of the shoulders, the shopman suffered
him to take them.

Your Venetian is _simpatico_, if he is any thing. He is always ready to
feel and to express the deepest concern, and I rather think he likes to
have his sensibilities appealed to, as a pleasant and healthful exercise
for them. His sympathy begins at home, and he generously pities himself
as the victim of a combination of misfortunes, which leave him citizen
of a country without liberty, without commerce, without money, without
hope. He next pities his fellow-citizens, who are as desperately
situated as himself. Then he pities the degradation, corruption, and
despair into which the city has fallen. And I think his compassion is
the most hopeless thing in his character. That alone is touched; that
alone is moved; and when its impulse ceases he and every thing about him
remain just as before.

With the poor, this sensibility is amusingly mischievous. They never
speak of one of their own class without adding some such ejaculation as
“Poor fellow!” or, “Poor little creature!” They pity all wretchedness,
no matter from what cause, and the greatest rogue has their compassion
when under a cloud. It is all but impossible to punish thieves in
Venice, where they are very bold and numerous for the police are too
much occupied with political surveillance to give due attention to mere
cutpurses and housebreakers, and even when they make an arrest, people
can hardly be got to bear witness against their unhappy prisoner.
_Povareto anca lu!_ There is no work and no money; people must do
something; so they steal. _Ci vuol pazienza!_ Bear witness against an
ill-fated fellow-sufferer? God forbid! Stop a thief? I think a burglar
might run from Rialto to San Marco, and not one compassionate soul in
the Merceria would do aught to arrest him--_povareto!_ Thieves came to
the house of a friend of mine at noonday, when his servant was out. They
tied their boat to his landing, entered his house, filled their boat
with plunder from it, and rowed out into the canal. The neighbors on the
floor above saw them, and cried “Thieves! thieves!” It was in the most
frequented part of the Grand Canal, where scores of boats passed and
repassed; but no one molested the thieves, and these _povareti_ escaped
with their booty. [Footnote: The rogues, it must be confessed, are often
very polite. This same friend of mine one day found a man in the act
of getting down into a boat with his favorite singing bird in its cage.
“What are you doing with that bird?” he thought himself authorized to
inquire. The thief looked about him a moment, and perceiving himself
detected, handed back the cage with a cool “_La scusi!_” (“Beg pardon!”)
as if its removal had been a trifling inadvertance.]

One night, in a little street through which we passed to our ferry,
there came a wild rush before us, of a woman screaming for help,
and pursued by her husband with a knife in his hand; their children,
shrieking piteously, came after them. The street was crowded with
people and soldiers, but no one put out his hand; and the man presently
overtook his wife and stabbed her in the back. We only knew of the rush,
but what it all meant we could not tell, till we saw the woman bleeding
from the stab, which, happily, was slight. Inquiry of the bystanders
developed the facts, but, singularly enough, scarcely a word of pity.
It was entirely a family affair, it seemed; the man, poor little fellow,
had a mistress, and his wife had maddened him with reproaches. _Come si
fa_? He had to stab her. The woman’s case was not one that appealed to
popular compassion, and the only words of pity for her which I heard
were expressed by the wife of a fruiterer, whom her husband angrily



It was natural that the Venetians, whose State lay upon the borders
of the Greek Empire, and whose greatest commerce was with the Orient,
should be influenced by the Constantinopolitan civilization. Mutinelli
records that in the twelfth century they had many religious offices and
observances in common with the Greeks, especially the homily or sermon,
which formed a very prominent part of the service of worship. At this
time, also, when the rupture of the Lombard League had left other
Italian cities to fall back into incessant local wars, and barbarized
their customs, the people of Venice dressed richly and delicately, after
the Greek fashion. They combed and dressed their hair, and wore the
long, pointed Greek beard; [Footnote: A. Foscarini, in 1687, was the
last patrician who wore the beard.] and though these Byzantine modes
fell, for the most part, into disuse, in after-time, there is still a
peculiarity of dress among the women of the Venetian poor which is said
to have been inherited from the oriental costumes of Constantinople;
namely, that high-heeled, sharp-toed slipper, or sandal, which covers
the front of the foot, and drops from the heel at every step, requiring
no slight art in the wearer to keep it on at all.

The philosophic vision, accustomed to relate trifling particulars to
important generalities, may perhaps see another relic of Byzantine
civilization among the Venetians, in that jealous restraint which they
put upon all the social movements of young girls, and the great liberty
which they allow to married women. It is true that their damsels are now
no longer imprisoned under the parental roof, as they were in times when
they never left its shelter but to go, closely veiled, to communion in
the church, on Christmas and Easter; but it is still quite impossible
that any young lady should go out alone. Indeed, she would scarcely be
secure from insult in broad day if she did so. She goes out with her
governess, and, even with this protection, she cannot be too guarded and
circumspect in her bearing; for in Venice a woman has to encounter upon
the public street a rude license of glance, from men of all ages and
conditions, which falls little short of outrage. They stare at her as
she approaches; and I have seen them turn and contemplate ladies as they
passed them, keeping a few paces in advance, with a leisurely sidelong
gait. Something of this insolence might be forgiven to thoughtless,
hot-blooded youth; but the gross and knowing leer that the elders of
the Piazza and the caffè put on at the approach of a pretty girl is an
ordeal which few women, not as thoroughly inured to it as the Venetians,
would care to encounter. However, as I never heard the trial complained
of by any but foreigners, I suppose it is not regarded by Italians as
intolerable; and it is certain that an audible compliment, upon the
street, to a pretty girl of the poor, is by no means an affront.

The arts of pleasing and of coquetry come by nature to the gentler sex;
and if in Italy they add to them a habit of intrigue, I wonder how much
they are to blame, never being in anywise trusted? They do not differ
from persons of any age or sex in that country, if the world has been as
justly, as it has always been firmly, persuaded that the people of Italy
are effete in point of good faith. I have seen much to justify this
opinion, and something also to confute it; and as long as Garibaldi
lives, I shall not let myself believe that a race which could produce
a man so signally truthful and single-hearted is a race of liars and
cheats. I think the student of their character should also be slow to
upbraid Italians for their duplicity, without admitting, in palliation
of the fault, facts of long ages of alien and domestic oppression, in
politics and religion, which must account for a vast deal of every kind
of evil in Italy. Yet after exception and palliation has been duly
made, it must be confessed that in Italy it does not seem to be thought
shameful to tell lies, and that there the standard of sincerity,
compared with that of the English or American, is low, as the Italian
standard of morality in ether respects is also comparatively low.
With the women, bred in idleness and ignorance, the imputed national
untruthfulness takes the form naturally to be expected, and contributes
to a state of things which must be examined with the greatest caution
and reservation by every one but the Italians themselves. Goethe says
that there is no society so corrupt that a man may not live virtuously
in it; and I think the immorality of any people will not be directly
and wholly seen by the stranger who does not seek it. Certainly, the
experience and acquaintance of a foreigner in Italy must have been
most unfortunate, if they confirm all the stories of corruption told by
Italians themselves. A little generous distrust is best in matters of
this kind; but while I strengthen my incredulity concerning the utter
depravation of Venetian society in one respect, I am not disposed to
deal so leniently with it in others. The state of things is bad in
Venice, not because all women in society are impure, but because the
Italian theory of morals does not admit the existence of opportunity
without sin. It is by rare chance that a young girl makes acquaintance
with young men in society; she seldom talks with them at the parties to
which she is sometimes taken by her mother, and they do not call upon
her at her home; while for her to walk alone with a young man would be
vastly more scandalous than much worse things, and is, consequently,
unheard of. The Italians say freely they cannot trust their women as
northern women are trusted; and some Italian women frankly confess that
their sex would be worse if it were trusted more. But the truth does not
appear in this shallow suspicion and this shallow self-conviction; and
one who cares to have a just estimate of this matter must by no means
believe all the evil he hears. There may be much corruption in society,
but there is infinitely more wrong in the habits of idle gossip and
guilty scandal, which eat all sense of shame and pity out of the heart
of Venice. There is no parallel to the prying, tattling, backbiting
littleness of the place elsewhere in the world. A small country village
in America or England has its meddlesomeness, but not its worldly,
wicked sharpness. Figure the meanness of a chimney-corner gossip, added
to the bitter shrewdness and witty penetration of a gifted roué, and you
have some idea of Venetian scandal. In that city, where all the nobler
organs of expression are closed by political conditions, the viler
channels run continual filth and poison, and the people, shut out from
public and free discussion of religious and political themes, occupy
themselves with private slander, and rend each other in their abject
desperation. As it is part of the existing political demonstration
to avoid the opera and theatre, the Venetians are deprived of these
harmless distractions; balls and evening parties, at which people,
in other countries, do nothing worse than bore each other, are almost
unknown, for the same reason; and when persons meet in society, it
is too often to retail personalities, or Italian politics made as
unintelligible and as like local gossip as possible. The talk which is
small and noxious in private circles is the same thing at the caffè,
when the dread of spies does not reduce the talkers to a dreary silence.
Not permitted to feel the currents of literature and the great world’s
thought in religion freshly and directly, they seldom speak of these
things, except in that tone of obsolete superiority which Italians are
still prone to affect, as the monopolists of culture. As to Art, the
Venetians are insensible to it and ignorant of it, here in the very
atmosphere of Art, to a degree absolutely amusing. I would as soon think
of asking a fish’s opinion of water as of asking a Venetian’s notion of
architecture or painting, unless he were himself a professed artist or

Admitting, however, that a great part of the corruption of society is
imputed, there still remains, no doubt, a great deal of real immorality
to be accounted for. This, I think, is often to be attributed to the bad
system of female education, and the habits of idleness in which women
are bred. Indeed, to Americans, the whole system of Italian education
seems calculated to reduce women to a state of imbecile captivity before
marriage; and I have no fault to find with the Italians that they are
jealous in guarding those whom they have unfitted to protect themselves,
but have rather to blame them that, after marriage, their women are
thrown at once upon society, when worse than helpless against its
temptations. Except with those people who attempt to maintain a certain
appearance in public upon insufficient means (and there are too many of
these in Venice as everywhere else), and who spare in every other way
that they may spend on dress, it does not often happen that Venetian
ladies are housekeepers. Servants are cheap and numerous, as they are
uncleanly and untrustworthy, and the Venetians prefer to keep them
[Footnote: A clerk or employé with a salary of fifty cents a day keeps a
maid-servant, that his wife may fulfill to society the important duty of
doing nothing.] rather than take part in housewifely duties; and, since
they must lavish upon dress and show, to suffer from cold and hunger in
their fireless houses and at their meagre boards. In this way the young
girls, kept imprisoned from the world, instead of learning cookery and
other domestic arts, have the grievous burden of idleness added to that
of their solitary confinement, not only among the rich and noble, but
among that large class which is neither and wishes to appear both.
[Footnote: The poet Gray, genteelly making the grand tour in 1740, wrote
to his father from Florence: “The only thing the Italians shine in is
their reception of strangers. At such times every thing is magnificence:
the more remarkable as in their ordinary course of life they are
parsimonious to a degree of nastiness. I saw in one of the vastest
palaces of Rome (that of the Prince Pamfilio), the apartment which he
himself inhabited, a bed that most servants in England would disdain to
lie in, and furniture much like that of a soph at Cambridge. This man
is worth 30,000_l_. a year.” Italian nature has changed so little in a
century, that all this would hold admirably true of Italian life at this
time. The goodly outside in religion, in morals, in every thing is too
much the ambition of Italy; this achieved, she is content to endure
any pang of self-denial, and sell what little comfort she knows--it is
mostly imported, like the word, from England--to strangers at fabulous
prices. In Italy the luxuries of life are cheap, and the conveniences
unknown or excessively dear.] Their idle thoughts, not drilled by study
nor occupied with work, run upon the freedom which marriage shall bring
them, and form a distorted image of the world, of which they know
as little as of their own undisciplined selves. Denied the just and
wholesome amusements of society during their girlhood, it is scarcely a
matter of surprise that they should throw themselves into the giddiest
whirl of its excitement when marriage sets them free to do so.

I have said I do not think Venetians who give each other bad names are
always to be credited, and I have no doubt that many a reputation in
Venice is stained while the victim remains without guilt. A questioned
reputation is, however, no great social calamity. It forms no bar to
society, and few people are so cruel as to blame it, though all discuss
it. And it is here that the harshness of American and English society
toward the erring woman (harshness which is not injustice, but
half-justice only) contrasts visibly to our advantage over the bad
naïveté and lenity of the Italians. The carefully secluded Italian girl
is accustomed to hear of things and speak of things which, with us,
parents strive in every way to keep from their daughters’ knowledge;
and while her sense of delicacy is thus early blunted, while she is thus
used to know good and evil, she hears her father and mother comment on
the sinful errors of a friend or neighbor, who visits them and meets
them every day in society. How can the impunity of the guilt which she
believes to exist around her but sometimes have its effect, and ripen,
with opportunity, into wrong? Nay, if the girl reveres her parents at
all, how can she think the sin, which they caress in the sinner, is
so very bad? If, however, she escape all these early influences of
depravation; if her idleness, and solitude and precocious knowledge
leave her unvitiated, if, when she goes into society, it is by marriage
with a man who is neither a dotard nor a fortune-seeker, and who remains
constant and does not tempt her, by neglect, to forbode offense and to
inflict anticipative reprisals--yet her purity goes uncredited, as her
guilt would go unpunished; scandal makes haste to blacken her name to
the prevailing hue; and whether she has sin or not, those with sin will
cast, not the stone that breaks and kills, but the filth that sticks and
stinks. The wife must continue the long social exile of her girlhood if
she would not be the prey of scandal. The _cavaliere servente_ no longer
exists, but gossip now attributes often more than one lover in his
place, and society has the cruel clemency to wink at the license.
Nothing is in worse taste than jealousy, and, consequently, though
intrigue sometimes causes stabbing, and the like, among low people, it
is rarely noticed by persons of good breeding. It seems to me that in
Venetian society the reform must begin, not with dissolute life, but
with the social toleration of the impure, and with the wanton habits of
scandal, which make all other life incredible, and deny to virtue the
triumph of fair fame.

I confess that what I saw of the innocent amusements of this society was
not enough to convince me of their brilliancy and attractiveness; but
I doubt if a foreigner can be a trustworthy judge of these things, and
perhaps a sketch drawn by an alien hand, in the best faith, might have
an air of caricature. I would not, therefore, like to trust my own
impression of social diversions. They were, very probably, much more
lively and brilliant than I thought them. But Italians assembled
anywhere, except at the theatre or the caffè, have a certain stiffness,
all the more surprising, because tradition has always led one to expect
exactly the reverse of them. I have seen nothing equal to the formality
of this people, who deride colder nations for inflexible manners; and I
have certainly never seen society in any small town in America so ill
at ease as I have seen society in Venice, writhing under self-imposed
restraints. At a musical soirée, attended by the class of people who at
home would have been chatty and sociable, given to making acquaintance
and to keeping up acquaintance,--the young men harmlessly talking and
walking with the young ladies, and the old people listening together,
while constant movement and intercourse kept life in the assembly, and
there was some real pleasure felt amidst a good deal of unavoidable
suffering,--I say, I found such a soirée in Venice to be a spectacle of
ladies planted in formal rows of low-necks and white dresses around
the four sides of one room, and of gentlemen restively imprisoned in
dress-coats and white gloves in another. During the music all these
devoted people listened attentively, and at the end, the ladies lapsed
back into their chairs and fanned themselves, while the gentlemen walked
up and down the floor of their cell, and stopped, two by two, at the
door of the ladies’ room, glanced mournfully athwart the moral barrier
which divided them, and sadly and dejectedly turned away. Amazed at
this singular species of social enjoyment, I inquired afterward, of a
Venetian lady, if evening parties in Venice were usually such ordeals,
and was discouraged to learn that what I had seen was scarcely an
exaggeration of prevailing torments. Commonly people do not know each
other, and it is difficult for the younger to procure introductions;
and when there is previous acquaintance, the presence of some commanding
spirit is necessary to break the ice of propriety, and substitute
enjoyment for correctness of behavior. Even at dancing parties, where
it would seem that the poetry of motion might do something to soften the
rigid bosom of Venetian deportment, the poor young people separate
after each dance, and take each sex its appointed prison, till the next
quadrille offers them a temporary liberation. For my own part, I cannot
wonder that young men fly these virtuous scenes, and throng the rooms of
those pleasant women of the _demi-monde_, who only exact from them that
they shall be natural and agreeable; I cannot wonder that their
fair partners in wretchedness seize the first opportunity to revenge
themselves upon the propriety which has so cruelly used them. It is
said that the assemblies of the Jews, while quite as unexceptionable
in character, are far more sociable and lively than those of the
Christians. The young Hebrews are frequently intelligent, well-bred, and
witty, with a _savoir faire_ which their Christian brethren lack. But,
indeed, the young Venetian is, at that age when all men are owlish,
ignorant, and vapid, the most owlish, ignorant, and vapid man in the
world. He talks, not milk-and-water, but warm water alone, a little
sweetened; and, until he has grown wicked, has very little good in him.

Most ladies of fashion receive calls on a certain day of each week, when
it is made a matter of pride to receive as many calls as possible. The
number sometimes reaches three hundred, when nobody sits down, and few
exchange more than a word with the hostess. In winter, the stove is
heated on these reception days, and little cups of black coffee are
passed round to the company; in summer lemonade is substituted for the
coffee; but in all seasons a thin, waferish slice of toasted rusk
(the Venetian _baicolo_) is offered to each guest with the drink. At
receptions where the sparsity of the company permits the lady of the
house to be seen, she is commonly visible on a sofa, surrounded by
visitors in a half-circle. Nobody stays more than ten or fifteen
minutes, and I have sometimes found even this brief time of much greater
apparent length, and apt to produce a low state of nerves, from which
one seldom recovers before dinner. Gentlemen, however, do not much
frequent these receptions; and I assert again the diffidence I should
feel in offering this glance at Venetian social enjoyment as conveying
a just and full idea of it. There is no doubt that the Venetians find
delight in their assemblies, where a stranger seeks it in vain. I dare
say they would not think our own reunions brilliant, and that, looking
obliquely (as a foreigner must) on the most sensible faces at one of
our evening parties, they might mistake the look of pathetic dejection,
visible in them, as the expression of people rather bored by their
pleasure than otherwise.

The conversazioni are of all sorts, from the conversazioni of the rigid
proprietarians, where people sit down to a kind of hopeless whist, at
a soldo the point, and say nothing, to the conversazioni of the
_demi-monde_ where they say any thing. There are persons in Venice, as
well as everywhere else, of new-fashioned modes of thinking, and
these strive to give a greater life and ease to their assemblies,
by attracting as many young men as possible; and in their families,
gentlemen are welcome to visit, and to talk with the young ladies in the
presence of their mothers. But though such people are no more accused
of impropriety than the straitest of the old-fashioned, they are not
regarded with the greatest esteem, and their daughters do not so readily
find husbands. The Italians are fickle, the women say; they get soon
tired of their wives after marriage, and when they see much of ladies
before marriage, they get tired of them then, and never make them their
wives. So it is much better to see nothing of a possible husband till
you actually have him. I do not think conversazioni of any kind are
popular with young men, however; they like better to go to the caffè,
and the people you meet at private houses are none the less interesting
for being old, or middle-aged. A great many of the best families, at
present, receive no company at all, and see their friends only in the
most private manner; though there are still cultivated circles to
which proper introduction gives the stranger (who has no Austrian
acquaintance) access. But unless he have thorough knowledge of Italian
politics localized to apply to Venice, an interest in the affairs,
fortunes, and misfortunes of his neighbors, and an acquaintance with
the Venetian dialect, I doubt if he will be able to enjoy himself in the
places so cautiously opened to him. Even in the most cultivated society,
the dialect is habitually spoken; and if Italian is used, it is only in
compliment to some foreigner present, for whose sake, also, topics of
general interest are sometimes chosen.

The best society is now composed of the families of professional men,
such as the advocates, the physicians, and the richer sort of merchants.
The shopkeepers, master-artisans, and others, whom industry and thrift
distinguish from the populace, seem not to have any social life, in
the American sense. They are wholly devoted to affairs, and partly from
choice, and partly from necessity, are sordid and grasping. It is their
class which has to fight hardest for life in Europe, and they give no
quarter to those above or below them. The shop is their sole thought and
interest, and they never, never sink it. But, since they have habits of
diligence, and, as far as they are permitted, of enterprise, they seem
to be in great part the stuff from which a prosperous State is to be
rebuilt in Venice, if ever the fallen edifice rise again. They have
sometimes a certain independence of character, which a better condition
of things, and further education, would perhaps lift into honesty;
though as yet they seem not to scruple to take any unfair advantage,
and not to know that commercial success can never rest permanently on a
system of bad faith. Below this class is the populace, between which and
the patrician order a relation something like Roman clientage existed,
contributing greatly to the maintenance of exclusively aristocratic
power in the State. The greatest conspiracy (that of Marin Falier) which
the commons ever moved against the oligarchy was revealed to one of
the nobility by his plebeian creature, or client; and the government
rewarded by every species of indulgence a class in which it had
extinguished even the desire of popular liberty. The heirs of the
servile baseness which such a system as this must create are not yet
extinct. There is still a helplessness in many of the servant class, and
a disposition to look for largess as well as wages, which are the traits
naturally resulting from a state of voluntary submission to others. The
nobles, as the government, enervated and debauched the character of the
poor by public shows and countless holidays; as individuals, they taught
them to depend upon patrician favor, and not upon their own plebeian
industry, for support. The lesson was an evil one, hard to be unlearned,
and it is yet to be forgotten in Venice. Certain traits of soft
and familiar dependence give great charm to the populace; but their
existence makes the student doubtful of a future to which the plebeians
themselves look forward with perfect hope and confidence. It may be that
they are right, and will really rise to the dignity of men, when free
government shall have taught them that the laborer is worthy of his
hire--after he has earned it. This has been the result, to some degree,
in the kingdom of Italy, where the people have found that freedom, like
happiness, means work.

Undoubtedly the best people in the best society of Venice are the
advocates, an order of consequence even in the times of the Republic,
though then shut out from participation in public affairs by a native
government, as now by a foreign one. Acquaintance with several members
of this profession impressed me with a sense of its liberality of
thought and feeling, where all liberal thinking and feeling must be done
by stealth, and where the common intelligence of the world sheds its
light through multiplied barriers. Daniele Manin, the President of the
Republic of 1848, was of this class, which, by virtue of its learning,
enlightenment, and talent, occupies a place in the esteem and regard of
the Venetian people far above that held by the effete aristocracy.
The better part of the nobility, indeed, is merged in the professional
class, and some of the most historic names are now preceded by the
learned titles of Doctor and Advocate, rather than the cheap dignity
of Count, offered by the Austrian government to all the patricians who
chose to ask for it, when Austrian rule was extended over their country.

The physicians rank next to the advocates, and are usually men learned
in their profession, however erroneous and old-fashioned some of their
theories of practice may be. Like the advocates, they are often men of
letters: they write for the journals, and publish little pamphlets on
those topics of local history which it is so much the fashion to treat
in Venice. No one makes a profession of authorship. The returns of an
author’s work would be too uncertain, and its restrictions and penalties
would be too vexatious and serious; and so literary topics are only
occasionally treated by those whose main energies are bent in another

The doctors are very numerous, and a considerable number of them are
Hebrews, who, even in the old jealous times, exercised the noble art
of medicine, and who now rank very highly among their professional
brethren. These physicians haunt the neat and tasteful apothecary shops,
where they sit upon the benching that passes round the interior, read
the newspapers, and discuss the politics of Europe, Asia, Africa, and
America, with all the zest that you may observe to characterize their
discussions in Goldoni’s plays. There they spend their evenings, and
many hours of every day, and thither the sick send to call them,--each
physician resorting to a particular apothecary’s, and keeping his name
inscribed on a brass plate against the wall, above the head of the
druggist, who presides over the reunions of the doctors, while his
apprentice pestles away at their prescriptions.

In 1786 there were, what with priests, monks, and nuns, a multitude of
persons of ecclesiastical profession in Venice; and though many convents
and monasteries were abolished by Napoleon, the priests are still very
numerous, and some monastic establishments have been revived under
Austrian rule. The high officers of the Church are, of course, well
paid, but most of the priesthood live miserably enough. They receive
from the government a daily stipend of about thirty-five soldi, and they
celebrate mass when they can get something to do in that way, for forty
soldi. Unless, then, they have private income from their own family, or
have pay for the education of some rich man’s son or daughter, they must
fare slenderly.

There is much said, in and out of Venice, about their influence in
society; but this is greatly modified, and I think is chiefly exercised
upon the women of the old-fashioned families. [Footnote: It is no longer
usual for girls to be educated in convents, and most young ladies of
the better classes, up to the age of thirteen or fourteen years, receive
their schooling in secular establishments, whither they go every day
for study, or where they sometimes live as in our boarding-schools, and
where they are taught the usual accomplishments, greater attention being
paid to French and music than to other things.] I need hardly repeat
the wellknown fact that all the moral power of the Roman Church over the
younger men is gone; these seldom attend mass, and almost never go to
confession, and the priests are their scorn and by-word. Their example,
in some degree, must be much followed also by women; and though women
must everywhere make more public professions of religion than men, in
order to retain social standing, I doubt if the priests have a very firm
hold upon the fears or reverence of the sisters and wives of liberal

If, however, they contribute in anywise to keep down the people, they
are themselves enslaved to their superiors and to each other. No priest
can leave the city of Venice without permission of the Patriarch. He is
cut off as much as possible from his own kinspeople, and subjected
to the constant surveillance of his class. Obliged to maintain a
respectable appearance on twenty cents a day,--hampered and hindered
from all personal liberty and private friendship, and hated by the great
mass of the people,--I hardly think the Venetian priest is to be envied
in his life. For my own part, knowing these things, I was not able to
cherish toward the priests those feelings of scornful severity which
swell many Protestant bosoms; and so far as I made their acquaintance, I
found them kind and amiable. One ecclesiastic, at least, I may describe
as one of the most agreeable and cultivated gentlemen I ever met.

Those who fare best among the priests are the Jesuits, who returned from
repeated banishment with the Austrians in this century. Their influence
is very extended, and the confessional is their forte. Venetians say
that with the old and the old-fashioned these crafty priests suggest
remorse and impose penances; that with the young men and the latter-day
thinkers they are men of the world, and pass off pleasant sins as
trifles. All the students of the government schools are obliged by
law to confess twice a month, and are given printed certificates of
confession, in blank, which the confessor fills up and stamps with the
seal of the Church. Most of them go to confess at the church of the
Jesuits, who are glad to hear the cock-and-bull story invented by
the student, and to cultivate his friendship by an easy penance and
a liberal tone. This ingenuous young man of course despises the
confessional. He goes to confess because the law obliges him to do so;
but the law cannot dictate what he must confess. Therefore, he ventures
as near downright burlesque as he dares, and (if the account he gives of
the matter be true) puts off his confessor with some well-known fact, as
that he has blasphemed. Of course he has blasphemed, blasphemy being as
common as the forms of salutation in Venice. So the priest, who wishes
him to come again, and to found some sort of influence over him,
says,--“Oh dear, dear! This is very bad. Blasphemy is deadly sin. If you
_must_ swear, swear by the heathen gods: say Body of Diana, instead of
Body of God; Presence of the Devil, instead of Blood of Mary. Then
there is no harm done.” The students laugh over the pleasant absurdity
together, and usually agree upon the matter of their semimonthly
confessions beforehand.

As I have hinted, the young men do not love the government or the
Church, and though I account for the loss of much high hope and generous
sympathy in growth from youth to middle age, I cannot see how, when
they have replaced their fathers, the present religious and political
discontent is to be modified. Nay, I believe it must become worse. The
middle-aged men of Venice grew up in times of comparative quiet, when
she did not so much care who ruled over her, and negatively, at least,
they honored the Church. They may now hate the foreign rule, but there
are many considerations of timidity, and many effects of education, to
temper their hate. They may dislike the priests, but they revere the
Church. The young men of to-day are bred in a different school, and all
their thoughts are of opposition to the government and of war upon the
Church, which they detest and ridicule. The fact that their education is
still in the hands of the priests in some measure, does not render them
more tractable. They have no fears to be wrought upon by their clerical
professors, who seldom have sought to act upon their nobler qualities.
The influence of the priesthood is again limited by the fact that the
teachers in the free schools of the city, to which the poor send their
children, are generally not priests; and ecclesiastics are no longer so
commonly the private tutors of the children of the rich, as they
once were when they lived with the family, and exercised a direct and
important influence on it. Express permission from the pope is now
necessary to the maintenance of a family chaplain, and the office is
nearly disused. [Footnote: In early days every noble Venetian family
had its chaplain, who, on the occasion of great dinners and suppers,
remained in the kitchen, and received as one of his perquisites the
fragments that came back from the table.]

The Republic was extremely jealous of the political power of the
priests, who could not hold secular office in its time. A curious
punishment was inflicted upon the priest who proved false to his own
vows of chastity, and there is a most amusing old ballad--by no means
cleanly in its language--purporting to be the lament of a priest
suspended in the iron cage, appointed for the purpose, from the belfry
of the Campanile San Marco, and enduring the jeers and insults of the
mob below. We may suppose that with advancing corruption (if corruption
has indeed advanced from remote to later times) this punishment was
disused for want of room to hang out the delinquents. In the last
century, especially, the nuns and monks led a pleasant life. You may
see in the old pictures of Pietro Longhi and his school, how at the
aristocratic and fashionable convent of San Zaccaria, the lady nuns
received their friends and acquaintances of this world in the anteroom,
where the dames and their cavaliers flirted and drank coffee, and the
gentlemen coquetted with the brides of heaven through their grated

Among other privileges of the Church, abolished in Venice long ago, was
that ancient right of the monks of St. Anthony, Abbot, by which
their herds of swine were made free of the whole city. These animals,
enveloped in an odor of sanctity, wandered here and there, and were
piously fed by devout people, until the year 1409, when, being found
dangerous to children and inconvenient to every body, they were made
the subject of a special decree, which deprived them of their freedom of
movement. The Republic was always limiting the privileges of the
Church! It is known how when the holy inquisition was established in its
dominions in 1249, the State stipulated that great part of the process
against heresy should be conducted by secular functionaries, and that
the sentence should rest with the Doge and his councillors,--a kind of
inquisition with claws clipped and teeth filed, as one may say, and
the only sort ever permitted in Venice. At present there is no absolute
disfavor shown to the clergy; but, as we have seen, many a pleasant
island, which the monks of old reclaimed from the salty marshes, and
planted with gardens and vineyards, now bears only the ruins of their
convents, or else, converted into a fortress or government dépôt, is
all thistly with bayonets. Anciently, moreover, there were many little
groves in different parts of the city, where the pleasant clergy, of
what Mr. Ruskin would have us believe the pure and religious days of
Venice, met and made merry so riotously together by night that the
higher officers of the Church were forced to prohibit their little

An old custom of rejoicing over the installation of a new parish priest
is still to be seen in almost primitive quaintness. The people of each
parish--nobles, citizens, and plebeians alike--formerly elected their
own priest, and, till the year 1576, they used to perambulate the city
to the sound of drums, with banners flying, after an election, and
proclaim the name of their favorite. On the day of the _parroco_’s
induction his portrait was placed over the church door and after the
celebration of the morning mass, a breakfast was given, which grew to be
so splendid in time, that in the fifteenth century a statute limited
its profusion. In the afternoon the new parroco, preceded by a band of
military music, visited all the streets and courts of his parish,
and then, as now, all the windows of the parish were decorated with
brilliant tapestries, and other gay-colored cloths and pictures. In
those times as in these, there was an illumination at night, throngs of
people in the campo of the church, and booths for traffic in cakes of
flour and raisins,--fried in lard upon the spot, and sold smoking hot,
with immense uproar on the part of the merchant; and for three days
afterward the parish bells were sounded in concert.

The difficulty of ascertaining any thing with certainty in Venice
attends in a degree peculiarly great the effort to learn exactly the
present influence and standing of the nobility as a class. One is
tempted, on observing the free and unembarrassed bearing of all ranks
of people toward each other, to say that no sense of difference
exists,--and I do not think there is ever shown, among Italians, either
the aggressive pride or the abject meanness which marks the intercourse
of people and nobles elsewhere in Europe, and I have not seen the
distinction of rich and poor made so brutally in Italy as sometimes in
our own _soi-disant_ democratic society at home. There is, indeed, that
equality in Italian fibre which I believe fits the nation for democratic
institutions better than any other, and which is perhaps partly the
result of their ancient civilization. At any rate, it fascinates a
stranger to see people so mutually gentle and deferential; and must
often be a matter of surprise to the Anglo-Saxon, in whose race,
reclaimed from barbarism more recently, the native wild-beast is still
so strong as to sometimes inform the manner. The uneducated Anglo-Saxon
is a savage; the Italian, though born to utter ignorance, poverty, and
depravity, is a civilized man. I do not say that his civilization is of
a high order, or that the civilization of the most cultivated Italian is
at all comparable to that of a gentleman among ourselves. The Italian’s
education, however profound, has left his passions undisciplined, while
it has carefully polished his manner; he yields lightly to temptation,
he loses his self-control, he blasphemes habitually; his gentleness is
conventional, his civilization not individual. With us the education of
a gentleman (I do not mean a person born to wealth or station, but any
man who has trained himself in morals or religion, in letters, and in
the world) disciplines the impulses, and leaves the good manner to
grow naturally out of habits of self-command and consequent habitual

The natural equality of the Italians is visible in their community of
good looks as well as good manners. They have never, perhaps, that
high beauty of sensitive expression which is found among Englishmen and
Americans (preferably among the latter), but it very rarely happens that
they are brutally ugly; and the man of low rank and mean vocation has
often a beauty of as fine sort as the man of education and refinement.
If they changed clothes, and the poor man could be persuaded to wash
himself, they might successfully masquerade, one for another. The
plebeian Italian, inspired by the national vanity, bears himself as
proudly as the noble, without at all aggressing in his manner. His
beauty, like that of the women of his class, is world-old,--the beauty
of the pictures and the statues: the ideal types of loveliness are
realized in Italy; the saints and heroes, the madonnas and nymphs, come
true to the stranger at every encounter with living faces. In Venice,
particularly, the carriage of the women, of whatever rank, is very free
and noble, and the servant is sometimes to be distinguished from the
mistress only by her dress and by her labor-coarsened hands; certainly
not always by her dirty finger-nails and foul teeth, for though the
clean shirt is now generally in Italy, some lesser virtues are still
unknown: the nail-brush and tooth-brush are of but infrequent use; the
four-pronged fork is still imperfectly understood, and as a nation the
Italians may be said to eat with their knives.

The Venetian, then, seeing so little difference between himself and
others, whatever his rank may be, has, as I said, little temptation to
arrogance or servility. The effects of the old relationship of patron
and client are amusingly noticeable in the superior as well as the
inferior; a rich man’s dependents are perfectly free with advice and
comment, and it sometimes happens that he likes to hear their lively
talk, and at home secretly consorts with his servants. The former social
differences between commoners and patricians (which, I think, judging
from the natural temper of the race, must have been greatly modified
at all times by concession and exception) may be said to have quite
disappeared in point of fact; the nobility is now almost as effete
socially as it is politically. There is still a number of historic
families, which are in a certain degree exclusive; but rich _parvenus_
have admission to their friendship, and commoners in good circumstances
are permitted their acquaintance; the ladies of this patrician society
visit ladies of less rank, and receive them at their great parties,
though not at more sacred assemblies, where they see only each other.

The Venetians have a habit of saying their best families are in exile,
but this is not meant to be taken literally. Many of the best families
are yet in the city, living in perfect retirement, or very often merged
in the middle class, and become men of professions, and active, useful
lives. Of these nobles (they usually belong to the families which
did not care to ask nobility of Austria, and are therefore untitled)
[Footnote: The only title conferred on any patrician of Venice during
the Republic was Cavaliere, and this was conferred by a legislative
act in reward of distinguished service. The names of the nobility were
written in the Golden Book of the Republic, and they were addressed
as Illustrissimo or Eccellenza. They also signed themselves _nobile_,
between the Christian name and surname, as it is still the habit of the
untitled nobility to do.] the citizens are affectionately proud, while I
have heard from them nothing but contempt and ridicule of the patricians
who, upon a wretched pension or meagre government office, attempt to
maintain patrician distinction. Such nobles are usually Austriacanti in
their politics, and behind the age in every thing; while there are
other descendants of patrician families mingled at last with the very
populace, sharing their ignorance and degradation, and feeling with
them. These sometimes exercise the most menial employments: I knew one
noble lord who had been a facchino, and I heard of another who was a
street-sweeper. _Conte che non conta, non conta niente_, [Footnote: A
count who doesn’t count (money) counts for nothing.] says the sneering
Italian proverb; and it would be little less than miraculous if a
nobility like that of modern Venice maintained superior state and regard
in the eyes of the quick-witted, intelligent, sarcastic commonalty.

The few opulent patricians are by no means the most violent of
Italianissimi. They own lands and houses, and as property is unsafe when
revolutionary feeling is rife, their patriotism is tempered. The wealth
amassed in early times by the vast and enterprising commerce of the
country was, when not dissipated in riotous splendor, invested in real
estate upon the main-land as the Republic grew in territory, and the
income of the nobles is now from the rents of these lands. They reside
upon their estates during the season of the _villeggiatura_, which
includes the months of September and October, when every one who can
possibly leave the city goes into the country. Then the patricians
betake themselves to their villas near Padua, Vicenza, Bassano, and
Treviso, and people the sad-colored, weather-worn stucco hermitages,
where the mutilated statues, swaggering above the gates, forlornly
commemorate days when it was a far finer thing to be a noble than it is
now. I say the villas look dreary and lonesome as places can be made to
look in Italy, what with their high garden walls, their long, low piles
of stabling, and the _passée_ indecency of their nymphs and fauns,
foolishly strutting in the attitudes of the silly and sinful old Past;
and it must be but a dull life that the noble proprietors lead there.

It is better, no doubt, on the banks of the Brenta, where there are
still so many villas as to form a street of these seats of luxury,
almost the whole length of the canal, from Fusina to Padua. I am
not certain that they have a right to the place which they hold in
literature and sentiment, and yet there is something very charming about
them, with their gardens, and chapels, and statues, and shaded walks.
We went to see them one day early in October, and found them every one,
when habitable, inhabited, and wearing a cheerful look, that made their
proximity to Venice incredible. As we returned home after dark, we saw
the ladies from the villas walking unattended along the road, and giving
the scene an air of homelike peace and trustfulness which I had not
found before in Italy; while the windows of the houses were brilliantly
lighted, as if people lived in them; whereas, you seldom see a light in
Venetian palaces. I am not sure that I did not like better, however, the
villas that were empty and ruinous, and the gardens that had run wild,
and the statues that had lost legs and arms. Some of the ingenious
proprietors had enterprisingly whitewashed their statues, and there
was a horrible primness about certain of the well-kept gardens which
offended me. Most of the houses were not large, but there was here and
there a palace as grand as any in the city. Such was the great villa
of the Contarini of the Lions, which was in every way superb, with
two great lions of stone guarding its portals, and a gravel walk,
over-arched with stately trees, stretching a quarter of a mile before
it. At the moment I was walking down this aisle I met a cleanshaven old
canonico, with red legs and red-tasseled hat, and with a book under his
arm, and a meditative look, whom I here thank for being so venerably
picturesque. The palace itself was shut up, and I wish I had known, when
I saw it, that it had a ghostly underground passage from its cellar to
the chapel,--wherein, when you get half way, your light goes out, and
you consequently never reach the chapel.

This is at Mira; but the greatest of all the villas is the magnificent
country-seat of the family Pisani at Stra, which now, with scarcely
any addition to its splendor, serves for the residence of the abdicated
Emperor of Austria. There is such pride in the vastness of this edifice
and its gardens as impresses you with the material greatness which found
expression in it, and never raises a regret that it has utterly passed
away. You wander around through the aisles of trim-cut lime-trees,
bullied and overborne by the insolent statues, and expect at every turn
to come upon intriguing spectres in bag-wigs, immense hoops and
patches. How can you feel sympathy for those dull and wicked ghosts of
eighteenth-century corruption? There is rottenness enough in the world
without digging up old putridity and sentimentalizing on it; and I doubt
if you will care to know much of the way in which the noble owner of
such a villa ascended the Brenta at the season of the _villeggiatura_ in
his great gilded barge, all carven outside with the dumpling loves and
loose nymphs of the period, with fruits, and flowers, and what not;
and within, luxuriously cushioned and furnished, and stocked with
good things for pleasure making in the gross old fashion. [Footnote:
Mutinelli, _Gli Ultimi Cinquant’ Anni della Repubblica di Veneza_.]
King Cole was not a merrier old soul than Illustrissimo of that day; he
outspent princes; and his agent, while he harried the tenants to supply
his master’s demands, plundered Illustrissimo frightfully. Illustrissimo
never looked at accounts. He said to his steward, “_Caro veccio, fè vu.
Mi remeto a quel che fè vu._” (Old fellow, you attend to it. I shall be
satisfied with what you do.) So the poor agent had no other course but
to swindle him, which he did; and Illustrissimo, when he died, died
poor, and left his lordly debts and vices to his sons.

In Venice, the noble still lives sometimes in his ancestral palace,
dimly occupying the halls where his forefathers flourished in so much
splendor. I can conceive, indeed, of no state of things more flattering
to human pride than that which surrounded the patrician of the old
aristocratic Republic. The house in which he dwelt was the palace of
a king, in luxury of appointment and magnificence of size. Troops of
servants that ministered to his state peopled its vast extent; and the
gondolas that carried his grandeur abroad were moored in little fleets
to the piles that rose before his palace, painted with the family arms
and colors. The palace itself stood usually on the Grand Canal, and
rose sheer from the water, giving the noble that haughty inaccessibility
which the lord of the main-land achieved only by building lofty walls
and multiplying gates. The architecture was as costly in its ornament
as wild Gothic fancy, or Renaissance luxury of bad taste, could make it;
and when the palace front was not of sculptured marble, the painter’s
pencil filled it with the delight of color. The main-land noble’s house
was half a fortress, and formed his stronghold in times of popular
tumult or family fray; but at Venice the strong arm of St. Mark
suppressed all turbulence in a city secure from foreign war; and the
peaceful arts rejoiced in undisturbed possession of the palaces, which
rose in the most delicate and fantastic beauty, and mirrored in the
brine a dream of sea-deep strangeness and richness. You see much of the
beauty yet, but the pride and opulence which called it into being are
gone forever.

Most palaces, whether of the Gothic or classicistic period, have the
same internal arrangement of halls and chambers, and are commonly built
of two lofty and two low stories. On the ground floor, or water level,
is a hall running back from the gate to a bit of garden at the other
side of the palace; and on either side of this hall, which in old times
was hung with the family trophies of the chase and war, are the porter’s
lodge and gondoliers’ rooms. On the first and second stories are the
family apartments, opening on either side from great halls, of the same
extent as that below, but with loftier roofs, of heavy rafters gilded
or painted. The fourth floor is of the same arrangement, but has a
lower roof, and was devoted to the better class of servants. Of the two
stories used by the family, the third is the loftier and airier, and was
occupied in summer; the second was the winter apartment. On either hand
the rooms open in suites.

We have seen something of the ceremonies, public and private, which gave
peculiar gayety and brilliance to the life of the Venetians of
former days; but in his political character the noble had yet greater
consequence. He was part of the proudest, strongest, and securest system
of his time. He was a king with the fellowship of kings, flattered with
the equality of an aristocracy which was master of itself, and of its
nominal head. During the earlier times it was his office to go daily to
Rialto and instruct the people in their political rights and duties for
four hours; and even when the duties became every thing and the rights
nothing (after the Serrar del Consiglio), the friendly habit of daily
intercourse between patricians and citizens was still kept up at the
same place. Once each week, and on every holiday, the noble took his
seat in the Grand Council (the most august assembly in the world,
without doubt), or the Ten, or the Three, according to his office in the
State,--holding his place in the Council by right of birth, and in the
other bodies by election of his peers.

Although the patricians were kept as one family apart from the people,
and jealously guarded in their aristocratic purity by the State, they
were only equals of the poorest before the laws of their own creation,
and their condescension to the people was frequent and great. Indeed,
the Venetians of all classes are social creatures, loving talk and
gossip, and these constant habits of intercourse must have done much to
produce that equality of manner now observable in them. Their amusements
were for a long time the same, the nobles taking part in the public
holidays, and in the popular exercises of rowing and swimming. In the
earlier times, hunting in the lagoons was a favorite diversion; but as
the decay of the Republic advanced, and the patrician blossomed into
the fine gentleman of the last century, these hearty sports were
relinquished, and every thing was voted vulgar but masking in carnival,
dancing and gaming at Ridotto, and intriguing everywhere.

The accounts which Venetian writers give of Republican society in the
eighteenth century form a _chronique scandaleuse_ which need not be
minutely copied here. Much may be learned of Venetian manners of this
time from the comedies of Goldoni; and the faithlessness of society
may be argued from the fact that in these plays, which contain nothing
salacious or indecent, there is scarcely a character of any rank
who scruples to tell lies; and the truth is not to be found in works
intended to school the public to virtue. The ingenious old playwright’s
memoirs are full of gossip concerning that poor old Venice, which is
now no more; and the worthy autobiographer, Casanova, also gives much
information about things that had best not be known.

As the Republic drew near its fall, in 1797, there was little left in
its dominant class worth saving, if we may believe the testimony of
Venetians which Mutinelli brings to bear upon the point in his “Annali
Urbani,” and his “History of the Last Fifty Years of the Republic.”
 Long prosperity and prodigious opulence had done their worst, and the
patricians, and the lowest orders of the people, their creatures and
dependants, were thoroughly corrupt; while the men of professions began
to assume that station which they now hold. The days of a fashionable
patrician of those times began at a little before sunset, and ended with
the following dawn. Rising from his bed, he dressed himself in dainty
linen, and placed himself in the hands of the hairdresser to be combed,
oiled, perfumed, and powdered; and then sallied forth for a stroll
through the Merceria, where this excellent husband and father made
tasteful purchases to be carried to the lady he served. At dinner,
which he took about seven or eight, his board was covered with the most
tempting viands, and surrounded by needy parasites, who detailed the
spicy scandals of the day in payment of their dinner, while the children
of the host were confided to the care of the corrupt and negligent
servants. After dinner, the father went to the theatre, or to the
_casino_, and spent the night over cards and wine, in the society of
dissolute women; and renewed on the morrow the routine of his useful
existence. The education of the children of the man of fashion was
confided to a priest, who lived in his family, and called himself an
abbate, after the mode of the _abbés_ of French society; he had winning
manners with the ladies, indulgent habits with his pupils, and dressed
his elegant person in silks of Lyons and English broadcloths. In the
pleasant old days he flitted from palace to villa, dining and supping,
and flattering the ladies, and tapping the lid of his jeweled snuffbox
in all fashionable companies. He was the cadet of a patrician family
(when not the ambitious son of a low family), with a polite taste for
idleness and intrigue, for whom no secular sinecure could be found in
the State, and who obliged the Church by accepting orders. Whether in
the palace on the Grand Canal, or the villa on the Brenta, this gentle
and engaging priest was surely the most agreeable person to be met, and
the most dangerous to ladies’ hearts,--with his rich suit of black,
and his smug, clean-shaven face, and his jeweled hands, and his sweet,
seducing manners. Alas! the world is changed! The priests whom you see
playing _tre-sette_ now at the conversazioni are altogether different
men, and the delightful abbate is as much out of fashion as the bag-wig
or the queue. When in fashion he loved the theatre, and often showed
himself there at the side of his noble patron’s wife. Nay, in that time
the theatre was so prized by the Church that a popular preacher thought
it becoming to declare from his pulpit that to compose well his
hearers should study the comedies of Goldoni,--and his hearers were the
posterity of that devout old aristocracy which never undertook a journey
without first receiving the holy sacrament; which had built the churches
and endowed them from private wealth!

Ignorance, as well as vice, was the mode in those elegant days, and it
is related that a charming lady of good society once addressed a foreign
_savant_ at her conversazione, and begged him to favor the company with
a little music, because, having heard that he was _virtuous_, she had
no other association with the word than its technical use in Italy to
indicate a professional singer as a _virtuoso_. A father of a family who
kept no abbate for the education of his children ingeniously taught them
himself. “Father,” asked one of his children, “what are the stars?” “The
stars are stars, and little things that shine as thou seest.” “Then they
are candles, perhaps?” “Make thy account that they are candles exactly.”
 “Of wax or tallow?” pursues the boy. “What! tallow-candles in heaven?
No, certainly--wax, wax!”

These, and many other scandalous stories, the Venetian writers recount
of the last days of their Republic, and the picture they produce is one
of the most shameless ignorance, the most polite corruption, the
most unblushing baseness. I have no doubt that the picture is full of
national exaggeration. Indeed, the method of Mutinelli (who I believe
intends to tell the truth) in writing social history is altogether too
credulous and incautious. It is well enough to study contemporary comedy
for light upon past society, but satirical ballads and lampoons, and
scurrilous letters, cannot be accepted as historical authority. Still
there is no question but Venice was very corrupt. As you read of her
people in the last century, one by one the ideas of family faith and
domestic purity fade away; one by one the beliefs in public virtue
are dissipated; until at last you are glad to fly the study, close the
filthy pages, and take refuge in doubt of the writers, who declare
that they must needs disgrace Venice with facts since her children have
dishonored her in their lives. “Such as we see them,” they say, “were
the patricians, such the people of Venice, after the middle of the
eighteenth century. The Venetians might be considered as extinguished;
the marvelous city, the pomp only of the Venetians, existed.”

Shall we believe this? Let each choose for himself. At that very time
the taste and wealth of a Venetian noble fostered the genius of Canova
and then, when their captains starved the ragged soldiers of the
Republic to feed their own idleness and vice,--when the soldiers
dismantled her forts to sell the guns to the Turk,--when her sailors
rioted on shore and her ships rotted in her ports, she had still
military virtue enough to produce that Emo, who beat back the Algerine
corsairs from the commerce of Christendom, and attacked them in their
stronghold, as of old her galleys beat back the Turks. Alas! there was
not the virtue in her statesmen to respond to this greatness in the
hero. One of their last public acts was to break his heart with insult,
and to crave peace of the pirates whom he had cowed. It remained for the
helpless Doge and the abject patricians, terrified at a threat of war,
to declare the Republic at an end, and San Marco was no more.

I love Republics too well to lament the fall of Venice. And yet, _Pax
tibi, Marce!_ If I have been slow to praise, I shall not hasten to
condemn, a whole nation. Indeed, so much occurs to me to qualify with
contrary sense what I have written concerning Venice, that I wonder if,
after all, I have not been treating throughout less of the rule than of
the exception. It is a doubt which must force itself upon every fair
and temperate man who attempts to describe another people’s life and
character; and I confess that it troubles me so sorely now, at the end
of my work, that I would fain pray the gentle reader to believe much
more good and much less evil of the Venetians than I have said. I am
glad that it remains for me to express a faith and hope in them for the
future, founded upon their present political feeling, which, however
tainted with self-interest in the case of many, is no doubt with
the great majority a high and true feeling of patriotism. And it is
impossible to believe that a people which can maintain the stern and
unyielding attitude now maintained by the Venetians toward an alien
government disposed to make them any concession short of freedom, in
order to win them into voluntary submission, can be wanting in the great
qualities which distinguish living peoples from those passed hopelessly
into history and sentiment. In truth, glancing back over the whole
career of the nation, I can discern in it nothing so admirable, so
dignified, so steadfastly brave, as its present sacrifice of all that
makes life easy and joyous, to the attainment of a good which shall make
life noble.

The Venetians desire now, and first of all things, Liberty, knowing
that in slavery men can learn no virtues; and I think them fit, with all
their errors and defects, to be free now, because men are never fit to
be slaves.



_(As it seems Seven Years after.)_

The last of four years which it was our fortune to live in the city
of Venice was passed under the roof of one of her most beautiful and
memorable palaces, namely, the Palazzo Giustiniani, whither we went,
as has been told in an earlier chapter of this book, to escape the
encroaching nepotism of Giovanna, the flower of serving-women. The
experience now, in Cambridge, Mass., refuses to consort with ordinary
remembrances, and has such a fantastic preference for the company of
rather vivid and circumstantial dreams, that it is with no very strong
hope of making it seem real that I shall venture to speak of it.

The Giustiniani were a family of patricians very famous during the times
of a Republic that gave so many splendid names to history, and the race
was preserved to the honor and service of Saint Mark by one of the most
romantic facts of his annals. During a war with the Greek Emperor in the
twelfth century every known Giustiniani was slain, and the heroic strain
seemed lost forever. But the state that mourned them bethought itself
of a half forgotten monk of their house, who was wasting his life in the
Convent of San Nicolò; he was drawn forth from this seclusion, and,
the permission of Rome being won, he was married to the daughter of the
reigning doge. From them descended the Giustiniani of aftertimes, who
still exist; in deed, in the year 1865 there came one day a gentleman of
the family, and tried to buy from our landlord that part of the palace
which we so humbly and insufficiently inhabited. It is said that as the
unfrocked friar and his wife declined in life they separated, and, as if
in doubt of what had been done for the state through them, retired each
into a convent, Giustiniani going back to San Nicolò, and dying at last
to the murmur of the Adriatic waves along the Lido’s sands.

Next after this Giustiniani I like best to think of that latest hero of
the family, who had the sad fortune to live when the ancient Republic
fell at a threat of Napoleon, and who alone among her nobles had
the courage to meet with a manly spirit the insolent menaces of the
conqueror. The Giustiniani governed Treviso for the Senate; he refused,
when Napoleon ordered him from his presence, to quit Treviso without the
command of the Senate; he flung back the taunts of bad faith cast upon
the Venetians; and when Napoleon changed his tone from that of disdain
to one of compliment, and promised that in the general disaster he
was preparing for Venice, Giustiniani should be spared, the latter
generously replied that he had been a friend of the French only because
the Senate was so; as to the immunity offered, all was lost to him
in the loss of his country, and he should blush for his wealth if it
remained intact amidst the ruin of his countrymen.

The family grew in riches and renown from age to age, and, some
four centuries after the marriage of the monk, they reared the three
beautiful Gothic palaces, in the noblest site on the Grand Canal, whence
on one hand you can look down to the Rialto Bridge, and on the other far
up towards the church of the Salute, and the Basin of Saint Mark. The
architects were those Buoni, father and son, who did some of the
most beautiful work on the Ducal Palace, and who wrought in an equal
inspiration upon these homes of the Giustiniani, building the delicate
Gothic arches of the windows, with their slender columns and their
graceful balconies, and crowning all with the airy battlements.

The largest of the three palaces became later the property of the
Foscari family, and here dwelt with his father that unhappy Jacopo
Foscari, who after thrice suffering torture by the state for a murder he
never did, at last died in exile; hither came the old Doge Foscari, who
had consented to this cruel error of the state, and who after a life
spent in its service was deposed and disgraced before his death; and
whither when he lay dead, came remorseful Venice, and claimed for
sumptuous obsequies the dust which his widow yielded with bitter
reproaches. Here the family faded away generation by generation, till,
(according to the tale told us) early in this century, when the ultimate
male survivor of the line had died, under a false name, in London, where
he had been some sort of obscure actor, there were but two old maiden
sisters left, who, lapsing into imbecility, were shown to strangers by
the rascal servants as the last of the Foscari; and here in our time was
quartered a regiment of Austrian troops, whose neatly pipe-clayed belts
decorated the balconies on which the princely ladies of the house had
rested their jewelled arms in other days.

The Foscari added a story to the palace to distinguish it from the two
other palaces Giustiniani, but these remain to the present day as they
were originally planned. That in which we lived was called Palazzo
Giustiniani of the Bishops, because one of the family was the first
patriarch of Venice. After his death he was made a saint by the Pope;
and it is related that he was not only a very pious, but a very good
man. In his last hours he admitted his beloved people to his chamber,
where he meekly lay upon a pallet of straw, and at the moment he
expired, two monks in the solitude of their cloister, heard an angelical
harmony in the air: the clergy performed his obsequies not in black,
funereal robes, but in white garments, and crowned with laurel, and
bearing gilded torches, and although the patriarch had died of a
malignant fever, his body was miraculously preserved incorrupt during
the sixty-five days that the obsequies lasted. The other branch of the
family was called the Giustiniani of the Jewels, from the splendor of
their dress; but neither palace now shelters any of their magnificent
race. The edifice on our right was exclusively occupied by a noble
Viennese lady, who as we heard,--vaguely, in the right Venetian
fashion,--had been a ballet-dancer in her youth, and who now in her
matronly days dwelt apart from her husband, the Russian count, and had
gondoliers in blue silk, and the finest gondola on the Grand Canal, but
was a plump, florid lady, looking long past beauty, even as we saw her
from our balcony.

Our own palace--as we absurdly grew to call it--was owned and inhabited
in a manner much more proper to modern Venice, the proprietorship being
about equally divided between our own landlord and a very well known
Venetian painter, son of a painter still more famous. This artist was
a very courteous old gentleman, who went with Italian and clock-like
regularity every evening in summer to a certain caffè, where he seemed
to make it a point of conscience to sip one sherbet, and to read the
“Journal des Débats.” In his coming and going we met him so often that
we became friends, and he asked us many times to visit him, and see his
father’s pictures, and some famous frescos with which his part of the
palace was adorned. It was a characteristic trait of our life, that
though we constantly meant to avail ourselves of this kindness, we never
did so. But we continued in the enjoyment of the beautiful garden, which
this gentleman owned at the rear of the palace and on which our chamber
windows looked. It was full of oleanders and roses, and other bright
and odorous blooms, which we could enjoy perfectly well without knowing
their names; and I could hardly say whether the garden was more charming
when it was in its summer glory, or when, on some rare winter day, a
breath from the mountains had clothed its tender boughs and sprays with
a light and evanescent flowering of snow. At any season the lofty palace
walls rose over it, and shut it in a pensive seclusion which was loved
by the old mother of the painter and by his elderly maiden sister. These
often walked on its moss-grown paths, silent as the roses and oleanders
to which one could have fancied the blossom of their youth had
flown; and sometimes there came to them there, grave, black-gowned
priests,--for the painter’s was a devout family,--and talked with them
in tones almost as tranquil as the silence was, save when one of the
ecclesiastics placidly took snuff,--it is a dogma of the Church for
priests to take snuff in Italy,--and thereafter, upon a prolonged search
for his handkerchief, blew a resounding nose. So far as we knew, the
garden walls circumscribed the whole life of these ladies; and I am
afraid that such topics of this world as they touched upon with their
priests must have been deplorably small.

Their kinsman owned part of the story under us, and both of the stories
above us; he had the advantage of the garden over our landlord; but
he had not so grand a gondola-gate as we, and in some other respects
I incline to think that our part of the edifice was the finer. It
is certain that no mention is made of any such beautiful hall in the
property of the painter as is noted in that of our landlord, by
the historian of a “Hundred Palaces of Venice,”--a work for which
I subscribed, and then for my merit was honored by a visit from the
author, who read aloud to me in a deep and sonorous voice the annals
of our temporary home. This hall occupied half the space of the whole
floor; but it was altogether surrounded by rooms of various shapes and
sizes, except upon one side of its length, where it gave through Gothic
windows of vari-colored glass, upon a small court below,--a green-mouldy
little court, further dampened by a cistern, which had the usual curb
of a single carven block of marble. The roof of this stately _sala_ was
traversed by a long series of painted rafters, which in the halls of
nearly all Venetian palaces are left exposed, and painted or carved and
gilded. A suite of stately rooms closed the hall from the Grand Canal,
and one of these formed our parlor; on the side opposite the Gothic
windows was a vast aristocratic kitchen, which, with its rows of shining
coppers, its great chimney-place well advanced toward the middle of the
floor, and its tall gloomy windows, still affects my imagination as one
of the most patrician rooms which I ever saw; at the back of the hall
were those chambers of ours overlooking the garden of which I have
already spoken, and another kitchen, less noble than the first, but
still sufficiently grandiose to make most New World kitchens seem very
meekly minute and unimpressive. Between the two kitchens was another
court, with another cistern, from which the painter’s family drew water
with a bucket on a long rope, which, when let down from the fourth
story, appeared to be dropped from the clouds, and descended with a
noise little less alarming than thunder.

Altogether the most surprising object in the great _sala_ was a
sewing-machine, and we should have been inconsolably outraged by its
presence there, amid so much that was merely venerable and beautiful,
but for the fact that it was in a state of harmonious and hopeless
disrepair, and, from its general contrivance, gave us the idea that it
had never been of any use. It was, in fact, kept as a sort of curiosity
by the landlord, who exhibited it to the admiration of his Venetian

The reader will doubtless have imagined, from what I have been saying,
that the Palazzo Giustiniani had not all that machinery which we know in
our houses here as modern improvements. It had nothing of the kind, and
life there was, as in most houses in Italy, a kind of permanent camping
out. When I remember the small amount of carpeting, of furniture, and of
upholstery we enjoyed, it appears to me pathetic; and yet, I am not sure
that it was not the wisest way to live. I know that we had compensation
in things not purchasable here for money. If the furniture of the
principal bedroom was somewhat scanty, its dimensions were unstinted
the ceiling was fifteen feet high, and was divided into rich and heavy
panels, adorned each with a mighty rosette of carved and gilded wood,
two feet across. The parlor had not its original decorations in our
time, but it had once had so noble a carved ceiling that it was found
worth while to take it down and sell it into England; and it still had
two grand Venetian mirrors, a vast and very good painting of a miracle
of St. Anthony, and imitation-antique tables and arm-chairs. The last
were frolicked all over with carven nymphs and cupids; but they were of
such frail construction that they were not meant to be sat in, much less
to be removed from the wall against which they stood; and more than one
of our American visitors was dismayed at having these proud articles of
furniture go to pieces upon his attempt to use them like mere arm-chairs
of ordinary life. Scarcely less impressive or useless than these was a
monumental plaster-stove, surmounted by a bust of Æsculapius; when this
was broken by accident, we cheaply repaired the loss with a bust of
Homer (the dealer in the next campo being out of Æsculapiuses) which no
one could have told from the bust it replaced; and this and the other
artistic glories of the room made us quite forget all possible
blemishes and defects. And will the reader mention any house with modern
improvements in America which has also windows, with pointed arches of
marble, opening upon balconies that overhang the Grand Canal?

For our new apartment, which consisted of six rooms, furnished with
every article necessary for Venetian housekeeping, we paid one dollar a
day which, in the innocence of our hearts we thought rather dear, though
we were somewhat consoled by reflecting that this extravagant outlay
secured us the finest position on the Grand Canal. We did not mean to
keep house as we had in Casa Falier, and perhaps a sketch of our easier
_ménage_ may not be out of place. Breakfast was prepared in the house,
for in that blessed climate all you care for in the morning is a cup of
coffee, with a little bread and butter, a musk-melon, and some clusters
of white grapes, more or less. Then we had our dinners sent in warm from
a cook’s who had learned his noble art in France; he furnished a dinner
of five courses for three persons at a cost of about eighty cents; and
they were dinners so happily conceived and so justly executed, that I
cannot accuse myself of an excess of sentiment when I confess that I
sigh for them to this day. Then as for our immaterial tea, we always
took that at the Caffè Florian in the Piazza of Saint Mark, where
we drank a cup of black coffee and ate an ice, while all the world
promenaded by, and the Austrian bands made heavenly music.

Those bands no longer play in Venice, and I believe that they are not
the only charm which she has lost in exchanging Austrian servitude for
Italian freedom; though I should be sorry to think that freedom was not
worth all other charms. The poor Venetians used to be very rigorous
(as I have elsewhere related), about the music of their oppressors,
and would not come into the Piazza until it had ceased and the Austrian
promenaders had disappeared, when they sat down at Florian’s, and
listened to such bands of strolling singers and minstrels as chose to
give them a concord of sweet sounds, without foreign admixture. We, in
our neutrality, were wont to sit out both entertainments, and then go
home well toward midnight, through the sleepy little streets, and over
the bridges that spanned the narrow canals, dreaming in the shadows of
the palaces.

We moved with half-conscious steps till we came to the silver expanse
of the Grand Canal, where, at the ferry, darkled a little brood of black
gondolas, into one of which we got, and were rowed noiselessly to the
thither side, where we took our way toward the land-gate of our palace
through the narrow streets of the parish of San Barnabà, and the campo
before the ugly façade of the church; or else we were rowed directly to
the water-gate, where we got out on the steps worn by the feet of the
Giustiniani of old, and wandered upward through the darkness of the
stairway, which gave them a far different welcome of servants and lights
when they returned from an evening’s pleasure in the Piazza. It seemed
scarcely just; but then, those Giustiniani were dead, and we were alive,
and that was one advantage; and, besides, the loneliness and desolation
of the palace had a peculiar charm, and were at any rate cheaper than
its former splendor could have been. I am afraid that people who live
abroad in the palaces of extinct nobles do not keep this important fact
sufficiently in mind; and as the Palazzo Giustiniani is still let in
furnished lodgings, and it is quite possible that some of my readers may
be going to spend next summer in it, I venture to remind them that if
they have to draw somewhat upon their fancy for patrician accommodations
there, it will cost them far less in money than it did the original
proprietors, who contributed to our selfish pleasure by the very thought
of their romantic absence and picturesque decay. In fact, the Past is
everywhere like the cake of proverb: you cannot enjoy it and have it.

And here I am reminded of another pleasure of modern dwellers in
Venetian palaces, which could hardly have been indulged by the
patricians of old, and which is hardly imaginable by people of this day,
whose front doors open upon dry land: I mean to say the privilege of
sea-bathing from one’s own threshold. From the beginning of June
till far into September all the canals of Venice are populated by the
amphibious boys, who clamor about in the brine, or poise themselves for
a leap from the tops of bridges, or show their fine, statuesque figures,
bronzed by the ardent sun, against the façades of empty palaces, where
they hover among the marble sculptures, and meditate a headlong plunge.
It is only the Venetian ladies, in fact, who do not share this healthful
amusement. Fathers of families, like so many plump, domestic drakes,
lead forth their aquatic broods, teaching the little ones to swim by
the aid of various floats, and delighting in the gambols of the larger
ducklings. When the tide comes in fresh and strong from the sea the
water in the Grand Canal is pure and refreshing; and at these times
it is a singular pleasure to leap from one’s door-step into the swift
current, and spend a half-hour, very informally, among one’s neighbors
there. The Venetian bathing-dress is a mere sketch of the pantaloons of
ordinary life; and when I used to stand upon our balcony, and see some
bearded head ducking me a polite salutation from a pair of broad,
brown shoulders that showed above the water, I was not always able
to recognize my acquaintance, deprived of his factitious identity of
clothes. But I always knew a certain stately consul-general by a vast
expanse of baldness upon the top of his head; and it must be owned,
I think, that this form of social assembly was, with all its
disadvantages, a novel and vivacious spectacle. The Venetian ladies,
when they bathed, went to the Lido, or else to the bath-houses in front
of the Ducal Palace, where they saturated themselves a good part of the
day, and drank coffee, and, possibly, gossiped.

I think that our balconies at Palazzo Giustiniani were even better
places to see the life of the Grand Canal from than the balcony of Casa
Falier, which we had just left. Here at least we had a greater stretch
of the Canal, looking, as we could, up either side of its angle. Here,
too, we had more gondola stations in sight, and as we were nearer the
Rialto, there was more picturesque passing of the market-boats. But if
we saw more of this life, we did not see it in greater variety, for
I think we had already exhausted this. There was a movement all night
long. If I woke at three or four o’clock, and offered myself the novel
spectacle of the Canal at that hour, I saw the heavy-laden barges go
by to the Rialto, with now and then also a good-sized coasting schooner
making lazily for the lagoons, with its ruddy fire already kindled for
cooking the morning’s meal, and looking very enviably cosey. After our
own breakfast we began to watch for the gondolas of the tourists of
different nations, whom we came to distinguish at a glance. Then the
boats of the various artisans went by, the carpenter’s, the mason’s, the
plasterer’s, with those that sold fuel, and vegetables, and fruit, and
fish, to any household that arrested them. From noon till three or four
o’clock the Canal was comparatively deserted; but before twilight it was
thronged again by people riding out in their open gondolas to take the
air after the day’s fervor. After nightfall they ceased, till only at
long intervals a solitary lamp, stealing over the dark surface, gave
token of the movement of some gondola bent upon an errand that could not
fail to seem mysterious or fail to be matter of fact. We never wearied
of this oft-repeated variety, nor of our balcony in any way; and when
the moon shone in through the lovely arched window and sketched its
exquisite outline on the floor, we were as happy as moonshine could make

Were we otherwise content? As concerns Venice, it is very hard to say,
and I do not know that I shall ever be able to say with certainty. For
all the entertainment it afforded us, it was a very lonely life, and we
felt the sadness of the city in many fine and not instantly recognizable
ways. Englishmen who lived there bade us beware of spending the whole
year in Venice, which they declared apt to result in a morbid depression
of the spirits. I believe they attributed this to the air of the
place, but I think it was more than half owing to her mood, to her old,
ghostly, aimless life. She was, indeed, a phantom of the past, haunting
our modern world,--serene, inexpressibly beautiful, yet inscrutably and
unspeakably sad. Remembering the charm that was in her, we often sigh
for the renewal of our own vague life there,--a shadow within the
shadow; but remembering also her deep melancholy, an involuntary shiver
creeps over us, and we are glad not to be there. Perhaps some of you who
have spent a summer day or a summer week in Venice do not recognize this
feeling; but if you will remain there, not four years as we did, but a
year or six months even, it will ever afterwards be only too plain. All
changes, all events, were affected by the inevitable local melancholy;
the day was as pensive amidst that populous silence as the night; the
winter not more pathetic than the long, tranquil, lovely summer. We
rarely sentimentalized consciously, and still more seldom openly, about
the present state of Venice as contrasted with her past glory.

I am glad to say that we despised the conventional poetastery about her;
but I believe that we had so far lived into sympathy with her, that,
whether we realized it or not, we took the tone of her dispiritedness,
and assumed a part of the common experience of loss and of hopelessness.
History, if you live where it was created, is a far subtler influence
than you suspect; and I would not say how much Venetian history, amidst
the monuments of her glory and the witnesses of her fall, had to do in
secret and tacit ways with the prevailing sentiment of existence, which
I now distinctly recognize to have been a melancholy one. No doubt this
sentiment was deepened by every freshly added association with memorable
places; and each fact, each great name and career, each strange
tradition as it rose out of the past for us and shed its pale lustre
upon the present, touched us with a pathos which we could neither trace
nor analyze.

I do not know how much the modern Venetians had to do with this
impression, but something I have no question. They were then under
Austrian rule; and in spite of much that was puerile and theatrical in
it, there was something very affecting in their attitude of what may
best be described as passive defiance. This alone made them heroic, but
it also made them tedious. They rarely talked of anything but politics;
and as I have elsewhere said, they were very jealous to have every one
declare himself of their opinion. Hemmed in by this jealousy on one
side, and by a heavy and rebellious sense of the wrongful presence of
the Austrian troops and the Austrian spies on the other, we forever felt
dimly constrained by something, we could not say precisely what, and we
only knew what, when we went sometimes on a journey into free Italy, and
threw off the irksome caution we had maintained both as to patriotic and
alien tyrants. This political misery circumscribed our acquaintance
very much, and reduced the circle of our friendship to three or four
families, who were content to know our sympathies without exacting
constant expression of them. So we learned to depend mainly upon passing
Americans for our society; we hailed with rapture the arrival of a
gondola distinguished by the easy hats of our countrymen and the pretty
faces and pretty dresses of our countrywomen. It was in the days of our
war; and talking together over its events, we felt a brotherhood with
every other American.

Of course, in these circumstances, we made thorough acquaintance with
the people about us in the palace. The landlord had come somehow into
a profitable knowledge of Anglo-Saxon foibles and susceptibilities; but
his lodgings were charming, and I recognize the principle that it is not
for literature to make its prey of any possibly conscious object. For
this reason, I am likewise mostly silent concerning a certain _attaché_
of the palace, the right-hand man and intimate associate of the
landlord. He was the descendant of one of the most ancient and noble
families of Italy,--a family of popes and cardinals, of princes and
ministers, which in him was diminished and tarnished in an almost
inexplicable degree. He was not at all worldly-wise, but he was a man
of great learning, and of a capacity for acquiring knowledge that I have
never seen surpassed. He possessed, I think, not many shirts on earth;
but he spoke three or four languages, and wrote very pretty sonnets in
Italian and German. He was one of the friendliest and willingest souls
living, and as generous as utter destitution can make a man; yet he had
a proper spirit, and valued himself upon his name. Sometimes he brought
his great-grandfather to the palace; a brisk old gentleman in his
nineties, who had seen the fall of the Republic and three other
revolutions in Venice, but had contrived to keep a government pension
through all, and now smiled with unabated cheerfulness upon a world
which he seemed likely never to leave.

The palace-servants were two, the gondolier and a sort of
housekeeper,--a handsome, swarthy woman, with beautiful white teeth and
liquid black eyes. She was the mother of a pretty little boy, who was
going to bring himself up for a priest, and whose chief amusement was
saying mimic masses to an imaginary congregation. She was perfectly
statuesque and obliging, and we had no right, as lovers of the beautiful
or as lodgers, to complain of her, whatever her faults might have been.
As to the gondolier, who was a very important personage in our palatial
household, he was a handsome bashful, well-mannered fellow, with a
good-natured blue eye and a neatly waxed mustache. He had been ten years
a soldier in the Austrian army, and was, from his own account and from
all I saw of him, one of the least courageous men in the world; but
then no part of the Austrian system tends to make men brave, and I
could easily imagine that before it had done with one it might give him
reasons enough to be timid all the rest of his life. Piero had not very
much to do, and he spent the greater part of his leisure in a sort
of lazy flirtation with the women about the kitchen-fire, or in the
gondola, in which he sometimes gave them the air. We always liked him;
I should have trusted him in any sort of way, except one that involved
danger. It once happened that burglars attempted to enter our rooms,
and Piero declared to us that he knew the men; but before the police, he
swore that he knew nothing about them. Afterwards he returned privately
to his first assertion, and accounted for his conduct by saying that
if he had borne witness against the burglars, he was afraid that their
friends would jump on his back (_saltarmi adosso_), as he phrased it,
in the dark; for by this sort of terrorism the poor and the wicked have
long been bound together in Italy. Piero was a humorist in his dry way,
and made a jest of his own caution; but his favorite joke was, when
he dressed himself with particular care, to tell the women that he was
going to pay a visit to the Princess Clary, then the star of
Austrian society. This mild pleasantry was repeated indefinitely with
never-failing effect.

More interesting to us than all the rest was our own servant, Bettina,
who came to us from a village on the mainland. She was very dark, so
dark and so Southern in appearance as almost to verge upon the negro
type; yet she bore the English-sounding name of Scarbro, and how she
ever came by it remains a puzzle to this day, for she was one of the
most pure and entire of Italians. I mean this was her maiden name; she
was married to a trumpeter in the Austrian service, whose Bohemian name
she was unable to pronounce, and consequently never gave us. She was a
woman of very few ideas indeed, but perfectly honest and good-hearted.
She was pious, in her peasant fashion, and in her walks about the city
did not fail to bless the baby before every picture of the Madonna.
She provided it with an engraved portrait of that Holy Nail which was
venerated in the neighboring church of San Pantaleon; and she apparently
aimed to supply it with playthings of a religious and saving character
like that piece of ivory, which resembled a small torso, and which
Bettina described as “A bit of the Lord, Signor,”--and it was, in fact,
a fragment of an ivory crucifix, which she had somewhere picked up.
To Bettina’s mind, mankind broadly divided themselves into two races,
Italians and Germans, to which latter she held that we Americans in some
sort belonged. She believed that America lay a little to the south of
Vienna and in her heart I think she was persuaded that the real national
complexion was black, and that the innumerable white Americans she saw
at our house were merely a multitude of exceptions. But with all her
ignorance, she had no superstitions of a gloomy kind: the only ghost she
seemed ever to have heard of was the spectre of an American ship captain
which a friend of Piero’s had seen at the Lido. She was perfectly kind
and obedient, and was deeply attached in an inarticulate way to the
baby, which was indeed the pet of the whole palace. This young lady
ruled arbitrarily over them all, and was forever being kissed and
adored. When Piero went out to the wine-shop for a little temperate
dissipation, he took her with him on his shoulder, and exhibited her to
the admiring gondoliers of his acquaintance; there was no puppetshow, no
church festival, in that region to which she was not carried; and
when Bettina, and Giulia, and all the idle women of the neighborhood
assembled on a Saturday afternoon in the narrow alley behind the palace
(where they dressed one another’s thick black hair in fine braids soaked
in milk, and built it up to last the whole of the next week), the baby
was the cynosure of all hearts and eyes. But her supremacy was yet more
distinguished when, late at night, the household gave itself a feast of
snails stewed in oil and garlic, in the vast kitchen. There her anxious
parents have found her seated in the middle of the table with the bowl
of snails before her, and armed with a great spoon, while her vassals
sat round, and grinned their fondness and delight in her small
tyrannies; and the immense room, dimly lit, with the mystical implements
of cookery glimmering from the wall, showed like some witch’s cavern,
where a particularly small sorceress was presiding over the concoction
of an evil potion or the weaving of a powerful spell.

From time to time we had fellow-lodgers, who were always more or less
interesting and mysterious. Among the rest there was once a French lady,
who languished, during her stay, under the disfavor of the police, and
for whose sake there was a sentinel with a fixed bayonet stationed
day and night at the palace gate. At last, one night, this French lady
escaped by a rope-ladder from her chamber window, and thus no doubt
satisfied alike the female instinct for intrigue and elopement and
the political agitator’s love of a mysterious disappearance. It
was understood dimly that she was an author, and had written a book
displeasing to the police.

Then there was the German baroness and her son and daughter, the last
very beautiful and much courted by handsome Austrian officers; the son
rather weak-minded, and a great care to his sister and mother, from his
propensity to fall in love and marry below his station; the mother very
red-faced and fat, a good-natured old creature who gambled the summer
months away at Hombourg and Baden and in the winter resorted to Venice
to make a match for her pretty daughter. Then, moreover, there was that
English family, between whom and ourselves there was the reluctance and
antipathy, personal and national, which exists between all right-minded
Englishmen and Americans. No Italian can understand this just and
natural condition, and it was the constant aim of our landlord to
make us acquainted. So one day when he found a member of each of these
unfriendly families on the neutral ground of the grand _sala_, he
introduced them. They had, happily, the piano-forte between them, and I
flatter myself that the insulting coldness and indifference with which
they received each other’s names carried to our landlord’s bosom a
dismay never before felt by a good-natured and well-meaning man.

The piano-forte which I have mentioned belonged to the landlord, who was
fond of music and of all fine and beautiful things; and now and then
he gave a musical _soirée_, which was attended, more or less
surreptitiously, by the young people of his acquaintance. I do not
think he was always quite candid in giving his invitations, for on one
occasion a certain count, who had taken refuge from the glare of the
_sala_ in our parlor for the purpose of concealing the very loud-plaided
pantaloons he wore, explained pathetically that he had no idea it was
a party, and that he had been so long out of society, for patriotic
reasons, that he had no longer a dress suit. But to us they were very
delightful entertainments, no less from the great variety of character
they afforded than from the really charming and excellent music which
the different amateurs made; for we had airs from all the famous operas,
and the instrumentation was by a gifted young composer. Besides, the
gayety seemed to recall in some degree the old, brilliant life of
the palace, and at least showed us how well it was adapted to social
magnificence and display.

We enjoyed our whole year in Palazzo Giustiniani, though some of the
days were too long and some too short, as everywhere. From heat we
hardly suffered at all, so perfectly did the vast and lofty rooms answer
to the purpose of their builders in this respect. A current of sea air
drew through to the painter’s garden by day; and by night there was
scarcely a mosquito of the myriads that infested some parts of Venice.
In winter it was not so well. Then we shuffled about in wadded gowns and
boots lined with sheep-skin,--the woolly side in, as in the song. The
passage of the _sala_, was something to be dreaded, and we shivered
as fleetly through it as we could, and were all the colder for the
deceitful warmth of the colors which the sun cast upon the stone floor
from the window opening on the court.

I do not remember any one event of our life more exciting than that
attempted burglary of which I have spoken. In a city where the police
gave their best attention to political offenders, there were naturally a
great many rogues, and the Venetian rogues, if not distinguished for the
more heroic crimes, were very skillful in what I may call the _genre_
branch of robbing rooms through open windows, and committing all kinds
of safe domestic depredations. It was judged best to acquaint Justice
(as they call law in Latin countries) with the attempt upon our
property, and I found her officers housed in a small room of the Doge’s
Palace, clerkly men in velvet skull-caps, driving loath quills over the
rough official paper of those regions. After an exchange of diplomatic
courtesies, the commissary took my statement of the affair down in
writing, pertinent to which were my father’s name, place, and business,
with a full and satisfactory personal history of myself down to the
period of the attempted burglary. This, I said, occurred one morning
about daylight, when I saw the head of the burglar peering above the
window-sill, and the hand of the burglar extended to prey upon my

“Excuse me, Signor Console,” interrupted the commissary, “how could you
see him?”

“Why, there was nothing in the world to prevent me. The window was

“The window was open!” gasped the commissary. “Do you mean that you
sleep with your windows open?”

“Most certainly!”

“Pardon!” said the commissary, suspiciously. “Do _all_ Americans sleep
with their windows open?”

“I may venture to say that they all do, in summer,” I answered; “at
least, it’s the general custom.”

Such a thing as this indulgence in fresh air seemed altogether foreign
to the commissary’s experience; and but for my official dignity, I am
sure that I should have been effectually browbeaten by him. As it was,
he threw himself back in his armchair and stared at me fixedly for some
moments. Then he recovered himself with another “Per-doni!” and,
turning to his clerk, said, “Write down that, _according to the American
custom_, they were sleeping with their windows open.” But I know that
the commissary, for all his politeness, considered this habit a relic
of the times when we Americans all abode in wigwams; and I suppose it
paralyzed his energies in the effort to bring the burglars to justice,
for I have never heard anything of them from that day to this.

The truth is, it was a very uneventful year; and I am the better
satisfied with it as an average Venetian year on that account. We
sometimes varied the pensive monotony by a short visit to the cities of
the mainland; but we always came back to it willingly, and I think
we unconsciously abhorred any interruption of it. The days, as they
followed each other, were wonderfully alike, in every respect. For eight
months of summer they were alike in their clear-skied, sweet-breathed
loveliness; in the autumn, there where the melancholy of the falling
leaf could not spread its contagion to the sculptured foliage of Gothic
art, the days were alike in their sentiment of tranquil oblivion and
resignation which was as autumnal as any aspect of woods or fields
could have been; in the winter they were alike in their dreariness and
discomfort. As I remember, we spent by far the greater part of our time
in going to the Piazza, and we were devoted Florianisti, as the Italians
call those that lounge habitually at the Caffè Florian. We went every
evening to the Piazza as a matter of course; if the morning was long, we
went to the Piazza; if we did not know what to do with the afternoon, we
went to the Piazza; if we had friends with us, we went to the Piazza;
if we were alone, we went to the Piazza; and there was no mood or
circumstances in which it did not seem a natural and fitting thing to
go to the Piazza. There were all the prettiest shops; there were all the
finest caffès; there was the incomparable Church of St. Mark; there was
the whole world of Venice.

Of course, we had other devices besides going to the Piazza; and
sometimes we spent entire weeks in visiting the churches, one after
another, and studying their artistic treasures, down to the smallest
scrap of an old master in their darkest chapel; their history, their
storied tombs, their fictitious associations. Very few churches escaped,
I believe, except such as had been turned into barracks, and were
guarded by an incorruptible Austrian sentinel. For such churches as did
escape, we have a kind of envious longing to this day, and should find
it hard to like anybody who had succeeded better in visiting them. There
is, for example, the church of San Giobbe, the doors of which we haunted
with more patience than that of the titulary saint: now the sacristan
was out; now the church was shut up for repairs; now it was Holy Week
and the pictures were veiled; we had to leave Venice at last without a
sight of San Giobbe’s three Saints by Bordone, and Madonna by Bellini,
which, unseen, outvalue all the other Saints and Madonnas that we looked
at; and I am sure that life can never become so aimless, but we shall
still have the desire of some day going to see the church of San Giobbe.
If we read some famous episode of Venetian history, we made it the
immediate care of our lives to visit the scene of its occurrence; if
Ruskin told us of some recondite beauty of sculpture hid away in
some unthought-of palace court, we invaded that palace at once; if in
entirely purposeless strolls through the city, we came upon anything
that touched the fancy or piqued curiosity, there was no gate or
bar proof against our bribes. What strange old nests of ruin, what
marvellous homes of solitude and dilapidation, did we not wander into!
What boarded-up windows peer through, what gloomy recesses penetrate!
I have lumber enough in my memory stored from such rambles to load the
nightmares of a generation, and stuff for the dreams of a whole people.
Does any gentleman or lady wish to write a romance? Sir or madam, I know
just the mouldy and sunless alley for your villain to stalk his victim
in, the canal in which to plunge his body, the staircase and the hall
for the subsequent wanderings of his ghost; and all these scenes and
localities I will sell at half the cost price; as also, balconies for
flirtation, gondolas for intrigue and elopement, confessionals for the
betrayal of guilty secrets. I have an assortment of bad and beautiful
faces and picturesque attitudes and effective tones of voice; and a
large stock of sympathetic sculptures and furniture and dresses, with
other articles too numerous to mention, all warranted Venetian, and
suitable to every style of romance. Who bids? Nay, I cannot sell, nor
you buy. Each memory, as I hold it up for inspection, loses its subtle
beauty and value, and turns common and poor in my hawker’s fingers.

Yet I must needs try to fix here the remembrance of two or three
palaces, of which our fancy took the fondest hold, and to which it yet
most fondly clings. It cannot locate them all, and least of all can it
place that vast old palace, somewhere near Cannaregio, which faced upon
a campo, with lofty windows blinded by rough boards, and empty from top
to bottom. It was of the later Renaissance in style, and we imagined
it built in the Republic’s declining years by some ruinous noble,
whose extravagance forbade his posterity to live in it, for it had that
peculiarly forlorn air which belongs to a thing decayed without being
worn out. We entered its coolness and dampness, and wandered up the wide
marble staircase, past the vacant niches of departed statuary, and came
on the third floor to a grand portal which was closed against us by a
barrier of lumber. But this could not hinder us from looking within, and
we were aware that we stood upon the threshold of our ruinous noble’s
great banqueting-hall, where he used to give his magnificent _feste da
ballo_. Lustrissimo was long gone with all his guests; but there in the
roof were the amazing frescos of Tiepolo’s school, which had smiled down
on them, as now they smiled on us, great piles of architecture, airy
tops of palaces, swimming in summer sky, and wantoned over by a joyous
populace of divinities of the lovelier sex that had nothing but their
loveliness to clothe them and keep them afloat; the whole grandiose and
superb beyond the effect of words, and luminous with delicious color.
How it all rioted there with its inextinguishable beauty in the solitude
and silence, from day to day, from year to year, while men died, and
systems passed, and nothing remained unchanged but the instincts of
youth and love that inspired it! It was music and wine and wit; it was
so warm and glowing that it made the sunlight cold; and it seemed
ever after a secret of gladness and beauty that the sad old palace was
keeping in its heart against the time to which Venice looks forward when
her splendor and opulence shall be indestructibly renewed.

There is a ball-room in the Palazzo Pisani, which some of my readers
may have passed through on their way to the studio of the charming
old Prussian painter, Nerlÿ; the frescos of this are dim and faded and
dusty, and impress you with a sense of irreparable decay, but the noble
proportions and the princely air of the place are inalienable, while
the palace stands. Here might have danced that Contarini who, when his
wife’s necklace of pearls fell upon the floor in the way of her partner,
the King of Denmark, advanced and ground it into powder with his foot
that the king might not be troubled to avoid treading on it; and here,
doubtless, many a gorgeous masquerade had been in the long Venetian
carnival; and what passion and intrigue and jealousy, who knows? Now the
palace was let in apartments, and was otherwise a barrack, and in the
great court, steadfast as any of the marble statues, stood the Austrian
sentinel. One of the statues was a figure veiled from head to foot, at
the base of which it was hard not to imagine lovers, masked and hooded,
and forever hurriedly whispering their secrets in the shadow cast in
perpetual moonlight.

Yet another ball-room in yet another palace opens to memory, but this
is all bright and fresh with recent decoration. In the blue vaulted roof
shine stars of gold; the walls are gay with dainty frescos; a gallery
encircles the whole, and from this drops a light stairway, slim-railed,
and guarded at the foot by torch-bearing statues of swarthy Eastern
girls; through the glass doors at the other side glimmers the green and
red of a garden. It was a place to be young in, to dance in, dream in,
make love in; but it was no more a surprise than the whole palace to
which it belonged, and which there in that tattered and poverty-stricken
old Venice was a vision of untarnished splendor and prosperous fortune.
It was richly furnished throughout all its vast extent, adorned with
every caprice and delight of art, and appointed with every modern
comfort The foot was hushed by costly carpets, the eye was flattered by
a thousand beauties and prettinesses. In the grates the fires were
laid and ready to be lighted; the candles stood upon the mantles; the
toilet-linen was arranged for instant use in the luxurious chambers; but
from basement to roof the palace was a solitude; no guest came there,
no one dwelt there save the custodian; the eccentric lady of whose
possessions it formed a part abode in a little house behind the palace,
and on her door-plate had written her _vanitas vanitatum_ in the
sarcastic inscription, “John Humdrum, Esquire.”

Of course she was Inglese; and that other lady, who was selling off the
furniture of her palace, and was so amiable a guide to its wonders in
her curious broken English, was Hungarian. Her great pride and joy,
amidst the objects of _vertu_ and the works of art, was a set of
“Punch,” which she made us admire, and which she prized the more because
she had always been allowed to receive it when the government prohibited
it to everybody else. But we were Americans, she said; and had we ever
seen this book? She held up the “The Potiphar Papers,” a volume which
must have been inexpressibly amused and bewildered to find itself there,
in that curious little old lady’s hand.

Shall I go on and tell of the palace in which our strange friend Padre
L------ dwelt, and the rooms of which he had filled up with the fruits
of his passion for the arts and sciences; the anteroom he had frescoed
to represent a grape-arbor with a multitude of clusters overhead; the
parlor with his oil-paintings on the walls, and the piano and melodeon
arranged so that Padre L------ could play upon them both at once; the
oratory turned forge, and harboring the most alchemic-looking apparatus
of all kinds; the other rooms in which he had stored his inventions
in portable furniture, steam-propulsion, rifled cannon, and perpetual
motion; the attic with the camera by which one could photograh one’s
self,--shall I tell of this, and yet other palaces? I think there is
enough already; and I have begun to doubt somewhat the truth of my
reminiscences, as I advise the reader to do.

Besides, I feel that the words fail to give all the truth that is in
them; and if I cannot make them serve my purpose as to the palaces,
how should I hope to impart through them my sense of the glory and
loveliness of Venetian art? I could not give the imagination and the
power of Tintoretto as we felt it, nor the serene beauty, the gracious
luxury of Titian, nor the opulence, the worldly magnificence of Paolo
Veronese. There hang their mighty works forever, high above the reach
of any palaverer; they smile their stately welcome from the altars and
palace-walls, upon whoever approaches them in the sincerity and love
of beauty that produced them; and thither you must thus go if you would
know them. Like fragments of dreams, like the fleeting

     “Images of glimmering dawn,”

I am from time to time aware, amid the work-day world, of some happiness
from them, some face or form, some drift of a princely robe or ethereal
drapery, some august shape of painted architecture, some un-namable
delight of color; but to describe them more strictly and explicitly, how
should I undertake?

There was the exhaustion following every form of intense pleasure, in
their contemplation, such a wear of vision and thought, that I could not
call the life we led in looking at them an idle one, even if it had
no result in after times; so I will not say that it was to severer
occupation our minds turned more and more in our growing desire to
return home. For my own part personally I felt keenly the fictitious and
transitory character of official life. I knew that if I had become fit
to serve the government by four years’ residence in Venice, that was
a good reason why the government, according to our admirable system,
should dismiss me, and send some perfectly unqualified person to take my
place; and in my heart also I knew that there was almost nothing for me
to do where I was, and I dreaded the easily formed habit of receiving, a
salary for no service performed. I reminded myself that, soon or late, I
must go back to the old fashion of earning money, and that it had better
be sooner than later. Therefore, though for some reasons it was the
saddest and strangest thing in the world to do, I was on the whole
rejoiced when a leave of absence came, and we prepared to quit Venice.

Never had the city seemed so dream-like and unreal as in this light of
farewell,--this tearful glimmer which our love and regret cast upon it.
As in a maze, we haunted once more and for the last time the scenes
we had known so long, and spent our final, phantasmal evening in the
Piazza; looked, through the moonlight, our mute adieu to islands and
lagoons, to church and tower; and then returned to our own palace, and
stood long upon the balconies that overhung the Grand Canal. There the
future became as incredible and improbable as the past; and if we had
often felt the incongruity of our coming to live in such a place, now,
with tenfold force, we felt the cruel absurdity of proposing to live
anywhere else. We had become part of Venice; and how could such atoms of
her fantastic personality ever mingle with the alien and unsympathetic

The next morning the whole palace household bestirred itself to
accompany us to the station: the landlord in his best hat and coat, our
noble friend in phenomenal linen, Giulia and her little boy, Bettina
shedding bitter tears over the baby, and Piero, sad but firm, bending
over the oar and driving us swiftly forward. The first turn of the Canal
shut the Palazzo Giustiniani from our lingering gaze, a few more curves
and windings brought us to the station. The tickets were bought, the
baggage was registered; the little oddly assorted company drew itself
up in a line, and received with tears our husky adieux. I feared there
might be a remote purpose in the hearts of the landlord and his retainer
to embrace and kiss me, after the Italian manner, but if there was, by
a final inspiration they spared me the ordeal. Piero turned away to
his gondola; the two other men moved aside; Bettina gave one long,
hungering, devouring hug to the baby; and as we hurried into the
waiting-room, we saw her, as upon a stage, standing without the barrier,
supported and sobbing in the arms of Giulia.

It was well to be gone, but I cannot say we were glad to be going.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Venetian Life" ***

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