Italian Hours
Henry James

Part 1 out of 7

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The chapters of which this volume is composed have with few
exceptions already been collected, and were then associated
with others commemorative of other impressions of (no very
extensive) excursions and wanderings. The notes on various
visits to Italy are here for the first time exclusively placed
together, and as they largely refer to quite other days than
these--the date affixed to each paper sufficiently indicating
this--I have introduced a few passages that speak for a later
and in some cases a frequently repeated vision of the places and
scenes in question. I have not hesitated to amend my text,
expressively, wherever it seemed urgently to ask for this,
though I have not pretended to add the element of information or
the weight of curious and critical insistence to a brief record
of light inquiries and conclusions. The fond appeal of the
observer concerned is all to aspects and appearances--above all
to the interesting face of things as it mainly used to

H. J.




THE HARBOUR, GENOA (Frontispiece)


It is a great pleasure to write the word; but I am not sure
there is not a certain impudence in pretending to add anything
to it. Venice has been painted and described many thousands of
times, and of all the cities of the world is the easiest to
visit without going there. Open the first book and you will find
a rhapsody about it; step into the first picture-dealer's and
you will find three or four high-coloured "views" of it. There
is notoriously nothing more to be said on the subject. Every one
has been there, and every one has brought back a collection of
photographs. There is as little mystery about the Grand Canal as
about our local thoroughfare, and the name of St. Mark is as
familiar as the postman's ring. It is not forbidden, however, to
speak of familiar things, and I hold that for the true Venice-
lover Venice is always in order. There is nothing new to be said
about her certainly, but the old is better than any novelty. It
would be a sad day indeed when there should be something new to
say. I write these lines with the full consciousness of having
no information whatever to offer. I do not pretend to enlighten
the reader; I pretend only to give a fillip to his memory; and I
hold any writer sufficiently justified who is himself in love
with his theme.


Mr. Ruskin has given it up, that is very true; but only after
extracting half a lifetime of pleasure and an immeasurable
quantity of fame from it. We all may do the same, after it has
served our turn, which it probably will not cease to do for many
a year to come. Meantime it is Mr. Ruskin who beyond anyone helps
us to enjoy. He has indeed lately produced several aids to
depression in the shape of certain little humorous--ill-humorous--
pamphlets (the series of St. Mark's Rest) which embody
his latest reflections on the subject of our city and describe
the latest atrocities perpetrated there. These latter are
numerous and deeply to be deplored; but to admit that they have
spoiled Venice would be to admit that Venice may be spoiled--an
admission pregnant, as it seems to us, with disloyalty.
Fortunately one reacts against the Ruskinian contagion, and one
hour of the lagoon is worth a hundred pages of demoralised prose.
This queer late-coming prose of Mr. Ruskin (including the revised
and condensed issue of the Stones of Venice, only one
little volume of which has been published, or perhaps ever will
be) is all to be read, though much of it appears addressed to
children of tender age. It is pitched in the nursery-key, and
might be supposed to emanate from an angry governess. It is,
however, all suggestive, and much of it is delightfully just.
There is an inconceivable want of form in it, though the author
has spent his life in laying down the principles of form and
scolding people for departing from them; but it throbs and
flashes with the love of his subject--a love disconcerted and
abjured, but which has still much of the force of inspiration.
Among the many strange things that have befallen Venice, she has
had the good fortune to become the object of a passion to a man
of splendid genius, who has made her his own and in doing so has
made her the world's. There is no better reading at Venice
therefore, as I say, than Ruskin, for every true Venice-lover can
separate the wheat from the chaff. The narrow theological spirit,
the moralism à tout propos, the queer provincialities and
pruderies, are mere wild weeds in a mountain of flowers. One may
doubtless be very happy in Venice without reading at all--without
criticising or analysing or thinking a strenuous thought. It is
a city in which, I suspect, there is very little strenuous
thinking, and yet it is a city in which there must be almost as
much happiness as misery. The misery of Venice stands there for
all the world to see; it is part of the spectacle--a
thoroughgoing devotee of local colour might consistently say it
is part of the pleasure. The Venetian people have little to call
their own--little more than the bare privilege of leading their
lives in the most beautiful of towns. Their habitations are
decayed; their taxes heavy; their pockets light; their
opportunities few. One receives an impression, however, that life
presents itself to them with attractions not accounted for in
this meagre train of advantages, and that they are on better
terms with it than many people who have made a better bargain.
They lie in the sunshine; they dabble in the sea; they wear
bright rags; they fall into attitudes and harmonies; they assist
at an eternal conversazione. It is not easy to say that
one would have them other than they are, and it certainly would
make an immense difference should they be better fed. The number
of persons in Venice who evidently never have enough to eat is
painfully large; but it would be more painful if we did not
equally perceive that the rich Venetian temperament may bloom
upon a dog's allowance. Nature has been kind to it, and sunshine
and leisure and conversation and beautiful views form the greater
part of its sustenance. It takes a great deal to make a
successful American, but to make a happy Venetian takes only a
handful of quick sensibility. The Italian people have at once the
good and the evil fortune to be conscious of few wants; so that
if the civilisation of a society is measured by the number of its
needs, as seems to be the common opinion to-day, it is to be
feared that the children of the lagoon would make but a poor
figure in a set of comparative tables. Not their misery,
doubtless, but the way they elude their misery, is what pleases
the sentimental tourist, who is gratified by the sight of a
beautiful race that lives by the aid of its imagination. The way
to enjoy Venice is to follow the example of these people and make
the most of simple pleasures. Almost all the pleasures of the
place are simple; this may be maintained even under the
imputation of ingenious paradox. There is no simpler pleasure
than looking at a fine Titian, unless it be looking at a fine
Tintoret or strolling into St. Mark's,--abominable the way one
falls into the habit,--and resting one's light-wearied eyes upon
the windowless gloom; or than floating in a gondola or than
hanging over a balcony or than taking one's coffee at Florian's.
It is of such superficial pastimes that a Venetian day is
composed, and the pleasure of the matter is in the emotions to
which they minister. These are fortunately of the finest--
otherwise Venice would be insufferably dull. Reading Ruskin is
good; reading the old records is perhaps better; but the best
thing of all is simply staying on. The only way to care for
Venice as she deserves it is to give her a chance to touch you
often--to linger and remain and return.


The danger is that you will not linger enough--a danger of which
the author of these lines had known something. It is possible to
dislike Venice, and to entertain the sentiment in a responsible
and intelligent manner. There are travellers who think the place
odious, and those who are not of this opinion often find
themselves wishing that the others were only more numerous. The
sentimental tourist's sole quarrel with his Venice is that he has
too many competitors there. He likes to be alone; to be original;
to have (to himself, at least) the air of making discoveries. The
Venice of to-day is a vast museum where the little wicket that
admits you is perpetually turning and creaking, and you march
through the institution with a herd of fellow-gazers. There is
nothing left to discover or describe, and originality of attitude
is completely impossible. This is often very annoying; you can
only turn your back on your impertinent playfellow and curse his
want of delicacy. But this is not the fault of Venice; it is the
fault of the rest of the world. The fault of Venice is that,
though she is easy to admire, she is not so easy to live with as
you count living in other places. After you have stayed a week
and the bloom of novelty has rubbed off you wonder if you can
accommodate yourself to the peculiar conditions. Your old habits
become impracticable and you find yourself obliged to form new
ones of an undesirable and unprofitable character. You are tired
of your gondola (or you think you are) and you have seen all the
principal pictures and heard the names of the palaces announced a
dozen times by your gondolier, who brings them out almost as
impressively as if he were an English butler bawling titles into
a drawing-room. You have walked several hundred times round the
Piazza and bought several bushels of photographs. You have
visited the antiquity mongers whose horrible sign-boards
dishonour some of the grandest vistas in the Grand Canal; you
have tried the opera and found it very bad; you have bathed at
the Lido and found the water flat. You have begun to have a
shipboard-feeling--to regard the Piazza as an enormous saloon
and the Riva degli Schiavoni as a promenade-deck. You are
obstructed and encaged; your desire for space is unsatisfied; you
miss your usual exercise. You try to take a walk and you fail,
and meantime, as I say, you have come to regard your gondola as a
sort of magnified baby's cradle. You have no desire to be rocked
to sleep, though you are sufficiently kept awake by the
irritation produced, as you gaze across the shallow lagoon, by
the attitude of the perpetual gondolier, with his turned-out
toes, his protruded chin, his absurdly unscientific stroke. The
canals have a horrible smell, and the everlasting Piazza, where
you have looked repeatedly at every article in every shop-window
and found them all rubbish, where the young Venetians who sell
bead bracelets and "panoramas" are perpetually thrusting their
wares at you, where the same tightly-buttoned officers are for
ever sucking the same black weeds, at the same empty tables, in
front of the same cafés--the Piazza, as I say, has resolved
itself into a magnificent tread-mill. This is the state of mind
of those shallow inquirers who find Venice all very well for a
week; and if in such a state of mind you take your departure you
act with fatal rashness. The loss is your own, moreover; it is
not--with all deference to your personal attractions--that of
your companions who remain behind; for though there are some
disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as
the visitors. The conditions are peculiar, but your intolerance
of them evaporates before it has had time to become a prejudice.
When you have called for the bill to go, pay it and remain, and
you will find on the morrow that you are deeply attached to
Venice. It is by living there from day to day that you feel the
fulness of her charm; that you invite her exquisite influence to
sink into your spirit. The creature varies like a nervous woman,
whom you know only when you know all the aspects of her beauty.
She has high spirits or low, she is pale or red, grey or pink,
cold or warm, fresh or wan, according to the weather or the hour.
She is always interesting and almost always sad; but she has a
thousand occasional graces and is always liable to happy
accidents. You become extraordinarily fond of these things; you
count upon them; they make part of your life. Tenderly fond you
become; there is something indefinable in those depths of
personal acquaintance that gradually establish themselves. The
place seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and
conscious of your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress
it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows
up and your visit becomes a perpetual love-affair. It is very
true that if you go, as the author of these lines on a certain
occasion went, about the middle of March, a certain amount of
disappointment is possible. He had paid no visit for several
years, and in the interval the beautiful and helpless city had
suffered an increase of injury. The barbarians are in full
possession and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded
from the moment of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any
more as a city at all; that she exists only as a battered peep-
show and bazaar. There was a horde of savage Germans encamped in
the Piazza, and they filled the Ducal Palace and the Academy with
their uproar. The English and Americans came a little later. They
came in good time, with a great many French, who were discreet
enough to make very long repasts at the Caffè Quadri, during
which they were out of the way. The months of April and May of
the year 1881 were not, as a general thing, a favourable season
for visiting the Ducal Palace and the Academy. The valet-de-
had marked them for his own and held triumphant
possession of them. He celebrates his triumphs in a terrible
brassy voice, which resounds all over the place, and has,
whatever language he be speaking, the accent of some other idiom.
During all the spring months in Venice these gentry abound in the
great resorts, and they lead their helpless captives through
churches and galleries in dense irresponsible groups. They infest
the Piazza; they pursue you along the Riva; they hang about the
bridges and the doors of the cafés. In saying just now that I was
disappointed at first, I had chiefly in mind the impression that
assails me to-day in the whole precinct of St. Mark's. The
condition of this ancient sanctuary is surely a great scandal.
The pedlars and commissioners ply their trade--often a very
unclean one--at the very door of the temple; they follow you
across the threshold, into the sacred dusk, and pull your sleeve,
and hiss into your ear, scuffling with each other for customers.
There is a great deal of dishonour about St. Mark's altogether,
and if Venice, as I say, has become a great bazaar, this
exquisite edifice is now the biggest booth.


It is treated as a booth in all ways, and if it had not somehow a
great spirit of solemnity within it the traveller would soon have
little warrant for regarding it as a religious affair. The
restoration of the outer walls, which has lately been so much
attacked and defended, is certainly a great shock. Of the
necessity of the work only an expert is, I suppose, in a position
to judge; but there is no doubt that, if a necessity it be, it is
one that is deeply to be regretted. To no more distressing
necessity have people of taste lately had to resign themselves.
Wherever the hand of the restorer has been laid all semblance of
beauty has vanished; which is a sad fact, considering that the
external loveliness of St. Mark's has been for ages less
impressive only than that of the still comparatively uninjured
interior. I know not what is the measure of necessity in such a
case, and it appears indeed to be a very delicate question. To-
day, at any rate, that admirable harmony of faded mosaic and
marble which, to the eye of the traveller emerging from the
narrow streets that lead to the Piazza, filled all the further
end of it with a sort of dazzling silver presence--to-day this
lovely vision is in a way to be completely reformed and indeed
well-nigh abolished. The old softness and mellowness of colour--
the work of the quiet centuries and of the breath of the salt
sea--is giving way to large crude patches of new material which
have the effect of a monstrous malady rather than of a
restoration to health. They look like blotches of red and white
paint and dishonourable smears of chalk on the cheeks of a noble
matron. The face toward the Piazzetta is in especial the newest-
looking thing conceivable--as new as a new pair of boots or as
the morning's paper. We do not profess, however, to undertake a
scientific quarrel with these changes; we admit that our
complaint is a purely sentimental one. The march of industry in
united Italy must doubtless be looked at as a whole, and one must
endeavour to believe that it is through innumerable lapses of
taste that this deeply interesting country is groping her way to
her place among the nations. For the present, it is not to be
denied, certain odd phases of the process are more visible than
the result, to arrive at which it seems necessary that, as she
was of old a passionate votary of the beautiful, she should to-
day burn everything that she has adored. It is doubtless too soon
to judge her, and there are moments when one is willing to
forgive her even the restoration of St. Mark's. Inside as well
there has been a considerable attempt to make the place more
tidy; but the general effect, as yet, has not seriously suffered.
What I chiefly remember is the straightening out of that dark and
rugged old pavement--those deep undulations of primitive mosaic
in which the fond spectator was thought to perceive an intended
resemblance to the waves of the ocean. Whether intended or not
the analogy was an image the more in a treasure-house of images;
but from a considerable portion of the church it has now
disappeared. Throughout the greater part indeed the pavement
remains as recent generations have known it--dark, rich, cracked,
uneven, spotted with porphyry and time-blackened malachite,
polished by the knees of innumerable worshippers; but in other
large stretches the idea imitated by the restorers is that of the
ocean in a dead calm, and the model they have taken the floor of
a London club-house or of a New York hotel. I think no Venetian
and scarcely any Italian cares much for such differences; and
when, a year ago, people in England were writing to the
Times about the whole business and holding meetings to
protest against it the dear children of the lagoon--so far as
they heard or heeded the rumour--thought them partly busy-bodies
and partly asses. Busy-bodies they doubtless were, but they took
a good deal of disinterested trouble. It never occurs to the
Venetian mind of to-day that such trouble may be worth taking;
the Venetian mind vainly endeavours to conceive a state of
existence in which personal questions are so insipid that people
have to look for grievances in the wrongs of brick and marble. I
must not, however, speak of St. Mark's as if I had the pretension
of giving a description of it or as if the reader desired one.
The reader has been too well served already. It is surely the
best-described building in the world. Open the Stones of
, open Théophile Gautier's ltalia, and you will
see. These writers take it very seriously, and it is only because
there is another way of taking it that I venture to speak of it;
the way that offers itself after you have been in Venice a couple
of months, and the light is hot in the great Square, and you pass
in under the pictured porticoes with a feeling of habit and
friendliness and a desire for something cool and dark. There are
moments, after all, when the church is comparatively quiet and
empty, and when you may sit there with an easy consciousness of
its beauty. From the moment, of course, that you go into any
Italian church for any purpose but to say your prayers or look at
the ladies, you rank yourself among the trooping barbarians I
just spoke of; you treat the place as an orifice in the peep-
show. Still, it is almost a spiritual function--or, at the
worst, an amorous one--to feed one's eyes on the molten colour
that drops from the hollow vaults and thickens the air with its
richness. It is all so quiet and sad and faded and yet all so
brilliant and living. The strange figures in the mosaic pictures,
bending with the curve of niche and vault, stare down through the
glowing dimness; the burnished gold that stands behind them
catches the light on its little uneven cubes. St. Mark's owes
nothing of its character to the beauty of proportion or
perspective; there is nothing grandly balanced or far-arching;
there are no long lines nor triumphs of the perpendicular. The
church arches indeed, but arches like a dusky cavern. Beauty of
surface, of tone, of detail, of things near enough to touch and
kneel upon and lean against--it is from this the effect proceeds.
In this sort of beauty the place is incredibly rich, and you may
go there every day and find afresh some lurking pictorial nook.
It is a treasury of bits, as the painters say; and there are
usually three or four of the fraternity with their easels set up
in uncertain equilibrium on the undulating floor. It is not easy
to catch the real complexion of St. Mark's, and these laudable
attempts at portraiture are apt to look either lurid or livid.
But if you cannot paint the old loose-looking marble slabs, the
great panels of basalt and jasper, the crucifixes of which the
lonely anguish looks deeper in the vertical light, the
tabernacles whose open doors disclose a dark Byzantine image
spotted with dull, crooked gems--if you cannot paint these things
you can at least grow fond of them. You grow fond even of the old
benches of red marble, partly worn away by the breeches of many
generations and attached to the base of those wide pilasters of
which the precious plating, delightful in its faded brownness,
with a faint grey bloom upon it, bulges and yawns a little with
honourable age.

[Illustration: FLAGS AT ST. MARK'S VENICE]


Even at first, when the vexatious sense of the city of the Doges
reduced to earning its living as a curiosity-shop was in its
keenness, there was a great deal of entertainment to be got from
lodging on Riva Schiavoni and looking out at the far-shimmering
lagoon. There was entertainment indeed in simply getting into the
place and observing the queer incidents of a Venetian
installation. A great many persons contribute indirectly to this
undertaking, and it is surprising how they spring out at you
during your novitiate to remind you that they are bound up in
some mysterious manner with the constitution of your little
establishment. It was an interesting problem for instance to
trace the subtle connection existing between the niece of the
landlady and the occupancy of the fourth floor. Superficially it
was none too visible, as the young lady in question was a dancer
at the Fenice theatre--or when that was closed at the Rossini--
and might have been supposed absorbed by her professional duties.
It proved necessary, however, that she should hover about the
premises in a velvet jacket and a pair of black kid gloves with
one little white button; as also, that she should apply a thick
coating of powder to her face, which had a charming oval and a
sweet weak expression, like that of most of the Venetian maidens,
who, as a general thing--it was not a peculiarity of the land-
lady's niece--are fond of besmearing themselves with flour. You
soon recognise that it is not only the many-twinkling lagoon
you behold from a habitation on the Riva; you see a little of
everything Venetian. Straight across, before my windows, rose the
great pink mass of San Giorgio Maggiore, which has for an ugly
Palladian church a success beyond all reason. It is a success of
position, of colour, of the immense detached Campanile, tipped
with a tall gold angel. I know not whether it is because San
Giorgio is so grandly conspicuous, with a great deal of worn,
faded-looking brickwork; but for many persons the whole place has
a kind of suffusion of rosiness. Asked what may be the leading
colour in the Venetian concert, we should inveterately say Pink,
and yet without remembering after all that this elegant hue
occurs very often. It is a faint, shimmering, airy, watery pink;
the bright sea-light seems to flush with it and the pale
whiteish-green of lagoon and canal to drink it in. There is
indeed a great deal of very evident brickwork, which is never
fresh or loud in colour, but always burnt out, as it were, always
exquisitely mild.

Certain little mental pictures rise before the collector of
memories at the simple mention, written or spoken, of the places
he has loved. When I hear, when I see, the magical name I have
written above these pages, it is not of the great Square that I
think, with its strange basilica and its high arcades, nor of the
wide mouth of the Grand Canal, with the stately steps and the
well- poised dome of the Salute; it is not of the low lagoon, nor
the sweet Piazzetta, nor the dark chambers of St. Mark's. I
simply see a narrow canal in the heart of the city--a patch of
green water and a surface of pink wall. The gondola moves slowly;
it gives a great smooth swerve, passes under a bridge, and the
gondolier's cry, carried over the quiet water, makes a kind of
splash in the stillness. A girl crosses the little bridge, which
has an arch like a camel's back, with an old shawl on her head,
which makes her characteristic and charming; you see her against
the sky as you float beneath. The pink of the old wall seems to
fill the whole place; it sinks even into the opaque water. Behind
the wall is a garden, out of which the long arm of a white June
rose--the roses of Venice are splendid--has flung itself by way
of spontaneous ornament. On the other side of this small water-
way is a great shabby facade of Gothic windows and balconies--
balconies on which dirty clothes are hung and under which a
cavernous-looking doorway opens from a low flight of slimy water-
steps. It is very hot and still, the canal has a queer smell, and
the whole place is enchanting.

[Illustration: A NARROW CANAL, VENICE]

It is poor work, however, talking about the colour of things in
Venice. The fond spectator is perpetually looking at it from his
window, when he is not floating about with that delightful sense
of being for the moment a part of it, which any gentleman in a
gondola is free to entertain. Venetian windows and balconies are
a dreadful lure, and while you rest your elbows on these
cushioned ledges the precious hours fly away. But in truth Venice
isn't in fair weather a place for concentration of mind. The
effort required for sitting down to a writing-table is heroic,
and the brightest page of MS. looks dull beside the brilliancy of
your milieu. All nature beckons you forth and murmurs to
you sophistically that such hours should be devoted to collecting
impressions. Afterwards, in ugly places, at unprivileged times,
you can convert your impressions into prose. Fortunately for the
present proser the weather wasn't always fine; the first month
was wet and windy, and it was better to judge of the matter from
an open casement than to respond to the advances of persuasive
gondoliers. Even then however there was a constant entertainment
in the view. It was all cold colour, and the steel-grey floor of
the lagoon was stroked the wrong way by the wind. Then there were
charming cool intervals, when the churches, the houses, the
anchored fishing-boats, the whole gently-curving line of the
Riva, seemed to be washed with a pearly white. Later it all
turned warm--warm to the eye as well as to other senses. After
the middle of May the whole place was in a glow. The sea took on
a thousand shades, but they were only infinite variations of
blue, and those rosy walls I just spoke of began to flush in the
thick sunshine. Every patch of colour, every yard of weather-
stained stucco, every glimpse of nestling garden or daub of sky
above a calle, began to shine and sparkle--began, as the
painters say, to "compose." The lagoon was streaked with odd
currents, which played across it like huge smooth finger-marks.
The gondolas multiplied and spotted it allover; every gondola and
gondolier looking, at a distance, precisely like every other.

There is something strange and fascinating in this mysterious
impersonality of the gondola. It has an identity when you are in
it, but, thanks to their all being of the same size, shape and
colour, and of the same deportment and gait, it has none, or as
little as possible, as you see it pass before you. From my
windows on the Riva there was always the same silhouette--the
long, black, slender skiff, lifting its head and throwing it back
a little, moving yet seeming not to move, with the grotesquely-
graceful figure on the poop. This figure inclines, as may be,
more to the graceful or to the grotesque--standing in the "second
position" of the dancing-master, but indulging from the waist
upward in a freedom of movement which that functionary would
deprecate. One may say as a general thing that there is something
rather awkward in the movement even of the most graceful
gondolier, and something graceful in the movement of the most
awkward. In the graceful men of course the grace predominates,
and nothing can be finer than the large, firm way in which, from
their point of vantage, they throw themselves over their
tremendous oar. It has the boldness of a plunging bird and the
regularity of a pendulum. Sometimes, as you see this movement in
profile, in a gondola that passes you--see, as you recline on
your own low cushions, the arching body of the gondolier lifted
up against the sky--it has a kind of nobleness which suggests an
image on a Greek frieze. The gondolier at Venice is your very
good friend--if you choose him happily--and on the quality of
the personage depends a good deal that of your impressions. He is
a part of your daily life, your double, your shadow, your
complement. Most people, I think, either like their gondolier or
hate him; and if they like him, like him very much. In this case
they take an interest in him after his departure; wish him to be
sure of employment, speak of him as the gem of gondoliers and
tell their friends to be certain to "secure" him. There is
usually no difficulty in securing him; there is nothing elusive
or reluctant about a gondolier. Nothing would induce me not to
believe them for the most part excellent fellows, and the
sentimental tourist must always have a kindness for them. More
than the rest of the population, of course, they are the children
of Venice; they are associated with its idiosyncrasy, with its
essence, with its silence, with its melancholy.

When I say they are associated with its silence I should
immediately add that they are associated also with its sound.
Among themselves they are an extraordinarily talkative company.
They chatter at the traghetti, where they always have some
sharp point under discussion; they bawl across the canals; they
bespeak your commands as you approach; they defy each other from
afar. If you happen to have a traghetto under your window,
you are well aware that they are a vocal race. I should go even
further than I went just now, and say that the voice of the
gondolier is in fact for audibility the dominant or rather the
only note of Venice. There is scarcely another heard sound, and
that indeed is part of the interest of the place. There is no
noise there save distinctly human noise; no rumbling, no vague
uproar, nor rattle of wheels and hoofs. It is all articulate and
vocal and personal. One may say indeed that Venice is
emphatically the city of conversation; people talk all over the
place because there is nothing to interfere with its being caught
by the ear. Among the populace it is a general family party. The
still water carries the voice, and good Venetians exchange
confidences at a distance of half a mile. It saves a world of
trouble, and they don't like trouble. Their delightful garrulous
language helps them to make Venetian life a long
conversazione. This language, with its soft elisions, its
odd transpositions, its kindly contempt for consonants and other
disagreeables, has in it something peculiarly human and
accommodating. If your gondolier had no other merit he would have
the merit that he speaks Venetian. This may rank as a merit even-
-some people perhaps would say especially--when you don't
understand what he says. But he adds to it other graces which
make him an agreeable feature in your life. The price he sets on
his services is touchingly small, and he has a happy art of being
obsequious without being, or at least without seeming, abject.
For occasional liberalities he evinces an almost lyrical
gratitude. In short he has delightfully good manners, a merit
which he shares for the most part with the Venetians at large.
One grows very fond of these people, and the reason of one's
fondness is the frankness and sweetness of their address. That of
the Italian family at large has much to recommend it; but in the
Venetian manner there is something peculiarly ingratiating. One
feels that the race is old, that it has a long and rich
civilisation in its blood, and that if it hasn't been blessed by
fortune it has at least been polished by time. It hasn't a genius
for stiff morality, and indeed makes few pretensions in that
direction. It scruples but scantly to represent the false as the
true, and has been accused of cultivating the occasion to grasp
and to overreach, and of steering a crooked course--not to your
and my advantage--amid the sanctities of property. It has been
accused further of loving if not too well at least too often, of
being in fine as little austere as possible. I am not sure it is
very brave, nor struck with its being very industrious. But it
has an unfailing sense of the amenities of life; the poorest
Venetian is a natural man of the world. He is better company than
persons of his class are apt to be among the nations of industry
and virtue--where people are also sometimes perceived to lie and
steal and otherwise misconduct themselves. He has a great desire
to please and to be pleased.


In that matter at least the cold-blooded stranger begins at last
to imitate him; begins to lead a life that shall be before all
things easy; unless indeed he allow himself, like Mr. Ruskin, to
be put out of humour by Titian and Tiepolo. The hours he spends
among the pictures are his best hours in Venice, and I am ashamed
to have written so much of common things when I might have been
making festoons of the names of the masters. Only, when we have
covered our page with such festoons what more is left to say?
When one has said Carpaccio and Bellini, the Tintoret and the
Veronese, one has struck a note that must be left to resound at
will. Everything has been said about the mighty painters, and it
is of little importance that a pilgrim the more has found them to
his taste. "Went this morning to the Academy; was very much
pleased with Titian's 'Assumption.'" That honest phrase has
doubtless been written in many a traveller's diary, and was not
indiscreet on the part of its author. But it appeals little to
the general reader, and we must moreover notoriously not expose
our deepest feelings. Since I have mentioned Titian's
"Assumption" I must say that there are some people who have been
less pleased with it than the observer we have just imagined. It
is one of the possible disappointments of Venice, and you may if
you like take advantage of your privilege of not caring for it.
It imparts a look of great richness to the side of the beautiful
room of the Academy on which it hangs; but the same room contains
two or three works less known to fame which are equally capable
of inspiring a passion. "The 'Annunciation' struck me as coarse
and superficial": that note was once made in a simple-minded
tourist's book. At Venice, strange to say, Titian is altogether a
disappointment; the city of his adoption is far from containing
the best of him. Madrid, Paris, London, Florence, Dresden, Munich
--these are the homes of his greatness.

There are other painters who have but a single home, and the
greatest of these is the Tintoret. Close beside him sit Carpaccio
and Bellini, who make with him the dazzling Venetian trio. The
Veronese may be seen and measured in other places; he is most
splendid in Venice, but he shines in Paris and in Dresden. You
may walk out of the noon-day dusk of Trafalgar Square in
November, and in one of the chambers of the National Gallery see
the family of Darius rustling and pleading and weeping at the
feet of Alexander. Alexander is a beautiful young Venetian in
crimson pantaloons, and the picture sends a glow into the cold
London twilight. You may sit before it for an hour and dream you
are floating to the water-gate of the Ducal Palace, where a
certain old beggar who has one of the handsomest heads in the
world--he has sat to a hundred painters for Doges and for
personages more sacred--has a prescriptive right to pretend to
pull your gondola to the steps and to hold out a greasy
immemorial cap. But you must go to Venice in very fact to see the
other masters, who form part of your life while you are there,
who illuminate your view of the universe. It is difficult to
express one's relation to them; the whole Venetian art-world is
so near, so familiar, so much an extension and adjunct of the
spreading actual, that it seems almost invidious to say one owes
more to one of them than to the other. Nowhere, not even in
Holland, where the correspondence between the real aspects and
the little polished canvases is so constant and so exquisite, do
art and life seem so interfused and, as it were, so
consanguineous. All the splendour of light and colour, all the
Venetian air and the Venetian history are on the walls and
ceilings of the palaces; and all the genius of the masters, all
the images and visions they have left upon canvas, seem to
tremble in the sunbeams and dance upon the waves. That is the
perpetual interest of the place--that you live in a certain sort
of knowledge as in a rosy cloud. You don't go into the churches
and galleries by way of a change from the streets; you go into
them because they offer you an exquisite reproduction of the
things that surround you. All Venice was both model and painter,
and life was so pictorial that art couldn't help becoming so.
With all diminutions life is pictorial still, and this fact gives
an extraordinary freshness to one's perception of the great
Venetian works. You judge of them not as a connoisseur, but as a
man of the world, and you enjoy them because they are so social
and so true. Perhaps of all works of art that are equally great
they demand least reflection on the part of the spectator--they
make least of a mystery of being enjoyed. Reflection only
confirms your admiration, yet is almost ashamed to show its head.
These things speak so frankly and benignantly to the sense that
even when they arrive at the highest style--as in the Tintoret's
"Presentation of the little Virgin at the Temple"--they are still
more familiar.

But it is hard, as I say, to express all this, and it is painful
as well to attempt it--painful because in the memory of vanished
hours so filled with beauty the consciousness of present loss
oppresses. Exquisite hours, enveloped in light and silence, to
have known them once is to have always a terrible standard of
enjoyment. Certain lovely mornings of May and June come back with
an ineffaceable fairness. Venice isn't smothered in flowers at
this season, in the manner of Florence and Rome; but the sea and
sky themselves seem to blossom and rustle. The gondola waits at
the wave-washed steps, and if you are wise you will take your
place beside a discriminating companion. Such a companion in
Venice should of course be of the sex that discriminates most
finely. An intelligent woman who knows her Venice seems doubly
intelligent, and it makes no woman's perceptions less keen to be
aware that she can't help looking graceful as she is borne over
the waves. The handsome Pasquale, with uplifted oar, awaits your
command, knowing, in a general way, from observation of your
habits, that your intention is to go to see a picture or two. It
perhaps doesn't immensely matter what picture you choose: the
whole affair is so charming. It is charming to wander through the
light and shade of intricate canals, with perpetual architecture
above you and perpetual fluidity beneath. It is charming to
disembark at the polished steps of a little empty campo--a
sunny shabby square with an old well in the middle, an old church
on one side and tall Venetian windows looking down. Sometimes the
windows are tenantless; sometimes a lady in a faded dressing-gown
leans vaguely on the sill. There is always an old man holding out
his hat for coppers; there are always three or four small boys
dodging possible umbrella-pokes while they precede you, in the
manner of custodians, to the door of the church.


The churches of Venice are rich in pictures, and many a
masterpiece lurks in the unaccommodating gloom of side-chapels
and sacristies. Many a noble work is perched behind the dusty
candles and muslin roses of a scantily-visited altar; some of
them indeed, hidden behind the altar, suffer in a darkness that
can never be explored. The facilities offered you for approaching
the picture in such cases are a mockery of your irritated wish.
You stand at tip-toe on a three-legged stool, you climb a rickety
ladder, you almost mount upon the shoulders of the
custode. You do everything but see the picture. You see
just enough to be sure it's beautiful. You catch a glimpse of a
divine head, of a fig tree against a mellow sky, but the rest is
impenetrable mystery. You renounce all hope, for instance, of
approaching the magnificent Cima da Conegliano in San Giovanni in
Bragora; and bethinking yourself of the immaculate purity that
shines in the spirit of this master, you renounce it with chagrin
and pain. Behind the high altar in that church hangs a Baptism of
Christ by Cima which I believe has been more or less repainted.
You make the thing out in spots, you see it has a fullness of
perfection. But you turn away from it with a stiff neck and
promise yourself consolation in the Academy and at the Madonna
dell' Orto, where two noble works by the same hand--pictures as
clear as a summer twilight--present themselves in better
circumstances. It may be said as a general thing that you never
see the Tintoret. You admire him, you adore him, you think him
the greatest of painters, but in the great majority of cases your
eyes fail to deal with him. This is partly his own fault; so many
of his works have turned to blackness and are positively rotting
in their frames. At the Scuola di San Rocco, where there are
acres of him, there is scarcely anything at all adequately
visible save the immense "Crucifixion" in the upper story. It is
true that in looking at this huge composition you look at many
pictures; it has not only a multitude of figures but a wealth of
episodes; and you pass from one of these to the other as if you
were "doing" a gallery. Surely no single picture in the world
contains more of human life; there is everything in it, including
the most exquisite beauty. It is one of the greatest things of
art; it is always interesting. There are works of the artist
which contain touches more exquisite, revelations of beauty more
radiant, but there is no other vision of so intense a reality, an
execution so splendid. The interest, the impressiveness, of that
whole corner of Venice, however melancholy the effect of its
gorgeous and ill-lighted chambers, gives a strange importance to
a visit to the Scuola. Nothing that all travellers go to see
appears to suffer less from the incursions of travellers. It is
one of the loneliest booths of the bazaar, and the author of
these lines has always had the good fortune, which he wishes to
every other traveller, of having it to himself. I think most
visitors find the place rather alarming and wicked-looking. They
walk about a while among the fitful figures that gleam here and
there out of the great tapestry (as it were) with which the
painter has hung all the walls, and then, depressed and
bewildered by the portentous solemnity of these objects, by
strange glimpses of unnatural scenes, by the echo of their lonely
footsteps on the vast stone floors, they take a hasty departure,
finding themselves again, with a sense of release from danger, a
sense that the genius loci was a sort of mad white-washer
who worked with a bad mixture, in the bright light of the
campo, among the beggars, the orange-vendors and the
passing gondolas. Solemn indeed is the place, solemn and
strangely suggestive, for the simple reason that we shall
scarcely find four walls elsewhere that inclose within a like
area an equal quantity of genius. The air is thick with it and
dense and difficult to breathe; for it was genius that was not
happy, inasmuch as it, lacked the art to fix itself for ever. It
is not immortality that we breathe at the Scuola di San Rocco,
but conscious, reluctant mortality.

Fortunately, however, we can turn to the Ducal Palace, where
everything is so brilliant and splendid that the poor dusky
Tintoret is lifted in spite of himself into the concert. This
deeply original building is of course the loveliest thing in
Venice, and a morning's stroll there is a wonderful illumination.
Cunningly select your hour--half the enjoyment of Venice is a
question. of dodging--and enter at about one o'clock, when the
tourists have flocked off to lunch and the echoes of the charming
chambers have gone to sleep among the sunbeams. There is no
brighter place in Venice--by which I mean that on the whole there
is none half so bright. The reflected sunshine plays up through
the great windows from the glittering lagoon and shimmers and
twinkles over gilded walls and ceilings. All the history of
Venice, all its splendid stately past, glows around you in a
strong sealight. Everyone here is magnificent, but the great
Veronese is the most magnificent of all. He swims before you in a
silver cloud; he thrones in an eternal morning. The deep blue sky
burns behind him, streaked across with milky bars; the white
colonnades sustain the richest canopies, under which the first
gentlemen and ladies in the world both render homage and receive
it. Their glorious garments rustle in the air of the sea and
their sun-lighted faces are the very complexion of Venice. The
mixture of pride and piety, of politics and religion, of art and
patriotism, gives a splendid dignity to every scene. Never was a
painter more nobly joyous, never did an artist take a greater
delight in life, seeing it all as a kind of breezy festival and
feeling it through the medium of perpetual success. He revels in
the gold-framed ovals of the ceilings, multiplies himself there
with the fluttering movement of an embroidered banner that tosses
itself into the blue. He was the happiest of painters and
produced the happiest picture in the world. "The Rape of Europa"
surely deserves this title; it is impossible to look at it
without aching with envy. Nowhere else in art is such a
temperament revealed; never did inclination and opportunity
combine to express such enjoyment. The mixture of flowers and
gems and brocade, of blooming flesh and shining sea and waving
groves, of youth, health, movement, desire--all this is the
brightest vision that ever descended upon the soul of a painter.
Happy the artist who could entertain such a vision; happy the
artist who could paint it as the masterpiece I here recall is

The Tintoret's visions were not so bright as that; but he had
several that were radiant enough. In the room that contains the
work just cited are several smaller canvases by the greatly more
complex genius of the Scuola di San Rocco, which are almost
simple in their loveliness, almost happy in their simplicity.
They have kept their brightness through the centuries, and they
shine with their neighbours in those golden rooms. There is a
piece of painting in one of them which is one of the sweetest
things in Venice and which reminds one afresh of those wild
flowers of execution that bloom so profusely and so unheeded in
the dark corners of all of the Tintoret's work. "Pallas chasing
away Mars" is, I believe, the name that is given to the picture;
and it represents in fact a young woman of noble appearance
administering a gentle push to a fine young man in armour, as if
to tell him to keep his distance. It is of the gentleness of this
push that I speak, the charming way in which she puts out her
arm, with a single bracelet on it, and rests her young hand, its
rosy fingers parted, on his dark breastplate. She bends her
enchanting head with the effort--a head which has all the
strange fairness that the Tintoret always sees in women--and the
soft, living, flesh-like glow of all these members, over which
the brush has scarcely paused in its course, is as pretty an
example of genius as all Venice can show. But why speak of the
Tintoret when I can say nothing of the great "Paradise," which
unfolds its somewhat smoky splendour and the wonder of its
multitudinous circles in one of the other chambers? If it were
not one of the first pictures in the world it would be about the
biggest, and we must confess that the spectator gets from it at
first chiefly an impression of quantity. Then he sees that this
quantity is really wealth; that the dim confusion of faces is a
magnificent composition, and that some of the details of this
composition are extremely beautiful. It is impossible however in
a retrospect of Venice to specify one's happiest hours, though
as one looks backward certain ineffaceable moments start here and
there into vividness. How is it possible to forget one's visits
to the sacristy of the Frari, however frequent they may have
been, and the great work of John Bellini which forms the treasure
of that apartment?


Nothing in Venice is more perfect than this, and we know of no
work of art more complete. The picture is in three compartments;
the Virgin sits in the central division with her child; two
venerable saints, standing close together, occupy each of the
others. It is impossible to imagine anything more finished or
more ripe. It is one of those things that sum up the genius of a
painter, the experience of a life, the teaching of a school. It
seems painted with molten gems, which have only been clarified by
time, and is as solemn as it is gorgeous and as simple as it is
deep. Giovanni Bellini is more or less everywhere in Venice,
and, wherever he is, almost certain to be first--first, I mean,
in his own line: paints little else than the Madonna and the
saints; he has not Carpaccio's care for human life at large, nor
the Tintoret's nor the of the Veronese. Some of his greater
pictures, however, where several figures are clustered together,
have a richness of sanctity that is almost profane. There is one
of them on the dark side of the room at the Academy that contains
Titian's "Assumption," which if we could only see it--its
position is an inconceivable scandal--would evidently be one of
the mightiest of so-called sacred pictures. So too is the Madonna
of San Zaccaria, hung in a cold, dim, dreary place, ever so much
too high, but so mild and serene, and so grandly disposed and
accompanied, that the proper attitude for even the most critical
amateur, as he looks at it, strikes one as the bended knee. There
is another noble John Bellini, one of the very few in which there
is no Virgin, at San Giovanni Crisostomo--a St. Jerome, in a red
dress, sitting aloft upon the rocks and with a landscape of
extraordinary purity behind him. The absence of the peculiarly
erect Madonna makes it an interesting surprise among the works of
the painter and gives it a somewhat less strenuous air. But it
has brilliant beauty and the St. Jerome is a delightful old

The same church contains another great picture for which the
haunter of these places must find a shrine apart in his memory;
one of the most interesting things he will have seen, if not the
most brilliant. Nothing appeals more to him than three figures of
Venetian ladies which occupy the foreground of a smallish canvas
of Sebastian del Piombo, placed above the high altar of San
Giovanni Crisostomo. Sebastian was a Venetian by birth, but few
of his productions are to be seen in his native place; few indeed
are to be seen anywhere. The picture represents the patron-saint
of the church, accompanied by other saints and by the worldly
votaries I have mentioned. These ladies stand together on the
left, holding in their hands little white caskets; two of them
are in profile, but the foremost turns her face to the spectator.
This face and figure are almost unique among the beautiful things
of Venice, and they leave the susceptible observer with the
impression of having made, or rather having missed, a strange, a
dangerous, but a most valuable, acquaintance. The lady, who is
superbly handsome, is the typical Venetian of the sixteenth
century, and she remains for the mind the perfect flower of that
society. Never was there a greater air of breeding, a deeper
expression of tranquil superiority. She walks a goddess--as if
she trod without sinking the waves of the Adriatic. It is
impossible to conceive a more perfect expression of the
aristocratic spirit either in its pride or in its benignity. This
magnificent creature is so strong and secure that she is gentle,
and so quiet that in comparison all minor assumptions of
calmness suggest only a vulgar alarm. But for all this there are
depths of possible disorder in her light-coloured eye.

I had meant however to say nothing about her, for it's not right
to speak of Sebastian when one hasn't found room for Carpaccio.
These visions come to one, and one can neither hold them nor
brush them aside. Memories of Carpaccio, the magnificent, the
delightful--it's not for want of such visitations, but only for
want of space, that I haven't said of him what I would. There is
little enough need of it for Carpaccio's sake, his fame being
brighter to-day--thanks to the generous lamp Mr. Ruskin has held
up to it--than it has ever been. Yet there is something
ridiculous in talking of Venice without making him almost the
refrain. He and the Tintoret are the two great realists, and it
is hard to say which is the more human, the more various. The
Tintoret had the mightier temperament, but Carpaccio, who had the
advantage of more newness and more responsibility, sailed nearer
to perfection. Here and there he quite touches it, as in the
enchanting picture, at the Academy, of St. Ursula asleep in her
little white bed, in her high clean room, where the angel visits
her at dawn; or in the noble St. Jerome in his study at S.
Giorgio Schiavoni. This latter work is a pearl of sentiment, and
I may add without being fantastic a ruby of colour. It unites the
most masterly finish with a kind of universal largeness of
feeling, and he who has it well in his memory will never hear the
name of Carpaccio without a throb of almost personal affection.
Such indeed is the feeling that descends upon you in that
wonderful little chapel of St. George of the Slaves, where this
most personal and sociable of artists has expressed all the
sweetness of his imagination. The place is small and
incommodious, the pictures are out of sight and ill-lighted, the
custodian is rapacious, the visitors are mutually intolerable,
but the shabby little chapel is a palace of art. Mr. Ruskin has
written a pamphlet about it which is a real aid to enjoyment,
though I can't but think the generous artist, with his keen
senses and his just feeling, would have suffered to hear his
eulogist declare that one of his other productions--in the Museo
Civico of Palazzo Correr, a delightful portrait of two Venetian
ladies with pet animals--is the "finest picture in the world." It
has no need of that to be thought admirable; and what more can a
painter desire?


May in Venice is better than April, but June is best of all. Then
the days are hot, but not too hot, and the nights are more
beautiful than the days. Then Venice is rosier than ever in the
morning and more golden than ever as the day descends. She seems
to expand and evaporate, to multiply all her reflections and
iridescences. Then the life of her people and the strangeness of
her constitution become a perpetual comedy, or at least a
perpetual drama. Then the gondola is your sole habitation, and
you spend days between sea and sky. You go to the Lido, though
the Lido has been spoiled. When I first saw it, in 1869, it was a
very natural place, and there was but a rough lane across the
little island from the landing-place to the beach. There was a
bathing-place in those days, and a restaurant, which was very
bad, but where in the warm evenings your dinner didn't much
matter as you sat letting it cool on the wooden terrace that
stretched out into the sea. To-day the Lido is a part of united
Italy and has been made the victim of villainous improvements. A
little cockney village has sprung up on its rural bosom and a
third-rate boulevard leads from Santa Elisabetta to the Adriatic.
There are bitumen walks and gas-lamps, lodging-houses, shops and
a teatro diurno. The bathing-establishment is bigger than
before, and the restaurant as well; but it is a compensation
perhaps that the cuisine is no better. Such as it is, however,
you won't scorn occasionally to partake of it on the breezy
platform under which bathers dart and splash, and which looks
out to where the fishing-boats, with sails of orange and crimson,
wander along the darkening horizon. The beach at the Lido is
still lonely and beautiful, and you can easily walk away from the
cockney village. The return to Venice in the sunset is classical
and indispensable, and those who at that glowing hour have
floated toward the towers that rise out of the lagoon will not
easily part with the impression. But you indulge in larger
excursions--you go to Burano and Torcello, to Malamocco and
Chioggia. Torcello, like the Lido, has been improved; the deeply
interesting little cathedral of the eighth century, which stood
there on the edge of the sea, as touching in its ruin, with its
grassy threshold and its primitive mosaics, as the bleached bones
of a human skeleton washed ashore by the tide, has now been
restored and made cheerful, and the charm of the place, its
strange and suggestive desolation, has well-nigh departed.

It will still serve you as a pretext, however, for a day on the
lagoon, especially as you will disembark at Burano and admire the
wonderful fisher-folk, whose good looks--and bad manners, I am
sorry to say--can scarcely be exaggerated. Burano is celebrated
for the beauty of its women and the rapacity of its children, and
it is a fact that though some of the ladies are rather bold about
it every one of them shows you a handsome face. The children
assail you for coppers, and in their desire to be satisfied
pursue your gondola into the sea. Chioggia is a larger Burano,
and you carry away from either place a half-sad, half-cynical,
but altogether pictorial impression; the impression of bright-
coloured hovels, of bathing in stagnant canals, of young girls
with faces of a delicate shape and a susceptible expression,
with splendid heads of hair and complexions smeared with powder,
faded yellow shawls that hang like old Greek draperies, and
little wooden shoes that click as they go up and down the steps
of the convex bridges; of brown-cheeked matrons with lustrous
tresses and high tempers, massive throats encased with gold
beads, and eyes that meet your own with a certain traditional
defiance. The men throughout the islands of Venice are almost as
handsome as the women; I have never seen so many good-looking
rascals. At Burano and Chioggia they sit mending their nets, or
lounge at the street corners, where conversation is always high-
pitched, or clamour to you to take a boat; and everywhere they
decorate the scene with their splendid colour--cheeks and
throats as richly brown as the sails of their fishing-smacks--
their sea-faded tatters which are always a "costume," their soft
Venetian jargon, and the gallantry with which they wear their
hats, an article that nowhere sits so well as on a mass of dense
Venetian curls. If you are happy you will find yourself, after a
June day in Venice (about ten o'clock), on a balcony that
overhangs the Grand Canal, with your elbows on the broad ledge, a
cigarette in your teeth and a little good company beside you. The
gondolas pass beneath, the watery surface gleams here and there
from their lamps, some of which are coloured lanterns that move
mysteriously in the darkness. There are some evenings in June
when there are too many gondolas, too many lanterns, too many
serenades in front of the hotels. The serenading in particular is
overdone; but on such a balcony as I speak of you needn't suffer
from it, for in the apartment behind you--an accessible refuge--
there is more good company, there are more cigarettes. If you are
wise you will step back there presently.



The honour of representing the plan and the place at their best
might perhaps appear, in the City of St. Mark, properly to
belong to the splendid square which bears the patron's name and
which is the centre of Venetian life so far (this is pretty. well
all the way indeed) as Venetian life is a matter of strolling and
chaffering, of gossiping and gaping, of circulating without a
purpose, and of staring--too often with a foolish one--through
the shop-windows of dealers whose hospitality makes their
doorsteps dramatic, at the very vulgarest rubbish in all the
modern market. If the Grand Canal, however, is not quite
technically a "street," the perverted Piazza is perhaps even less
normal; and I hasten to add that I am glad not to find myself
studying my subject under the international arcades, or yet (I
will go the length of saying) in the solemn presence of the
church. For indeed in that case I foresee I should become still
more confoundingly conscious of the stumbling-block that
inevitably, even with his first few words, crops up in the path
of the lover of Venice who rashly addresses himself to
expression. "Venetian life" is a mere literary convention, though
it be an indispensable figure. The words have played an
effective part in the literature of sensibility; they constituted
thirty years ago the title of Mr. Howells's delightful volume of
impressions; but in using them to-day one owes some frank amends
to one's own lucidity. Let me carefully premise therefore that so
often as they shall again drop from my pen, so often shall I beg
to be regarded as systematically superficial.

Venetian life, in the large old sense, has long since come to an
end, and the essential present character of the most melancholy
of cities resides simply in its being the most beautiful of
tombs. Nowhere else has the past been laid to rest with such
tenderness, such a sadness of resignation and remembrance.
Nowhere else is the present so alien, so discontinuous, so like a
crowd in a cemetery without garlands for the graves. It has no
flowers in its hands, but, as a compensation perhaps--and the
thing is doubtless more to the point--it has money and little red
books. The everlasting shuffle of these irresponsible visitors in
the Piazza is contemporary Venetian life. Everything else is only
a reverberation of that. The vast mausoleum has a turnstile at
the door, and a functionary in a shabby uniform lets you in, as
per tariff, to see how dead it is. From this constatation,
this cold curiosity, proceed all the industry, the prosperity,
the vitality of the place. The shopkeepers and gondoliers, the
beggars and the models, depend upon it for a living; they are the
custodians and the ushers of the great museum--they are even
themselves to a certain extent the objects of exhibition. It is
in the wide vestibule of the square that the polygot pilgrims
gather most densely; Piazza San Marco is the lobby of the opera
in the intervals of the performance. The present fortune of
Venice, the lamentable difference, is most easily measured there,
and that is why, in the effort to resist our pessimism, we must
turn away both from the purchasers and from the vendors of
ricordi. The ricordi that we prefer are gathered
best where the gondola glides--best of all on the noble waterway
that begins in its glory at the Salute and ends in its abasement
at the railway station. It is, however, the cockneyfied Piazzetta
(forgive me, shade of St. Theodore--has not a brand new café
begun to glare there, electrically, this very year?) that
introduces us most directly to the great picture by which the
Grand Canal works its first spell, and to which a thousand
artists, not always with a talent apiece, have paid their
tribute. We pass into the Piazzetta to look down the great
throat, as it were, of Venice, and the vision must console us for
turning our back on St. Mark's.

We have been treated to it again and again, of course, even if we
have never stirred from home; but that is only a reason the more
for catching at any freshness that may be left in the world of
photography. It is in Venice above all that we hear the small
buzz of this vulgarising voice of the familiar; yet perhaps it is
in Venice too that the picturesque fact has best mastered the
pious secret of how to wait for us. Even the classic Salute waits
like some great lady on the threshold of her saloon. She is more
ample and serene, more seated at her door, than all the copyists
have told us, with her domes and scrolls, her scolloped
buttresses and statues forming a pompous crown, and her wide
steps disposed on the ground like the train of a robe. This fine
air of the woman of the world is carried out by the well-bred
assurance with which she looks in the direction of her old-
fashioned Byzantine neighbour; and the juxtaposition of two
churches so distinguished and so different, each splendid in its
sort, is a sufficient mark of the scale and range of Venice.
However, we ourselves are looking away from St. Mark's--we must
blind our eyes to that dazzle; without it indeed there are
brightnesses and fascinations enough. We see them in abundance
even while we look away from the shady steps of the Salute. These
steps are cool in the morning, yet I don't know that I can
justify my excessive fondness for them any better than I can
explain a hundred of the other vague infatuations with which
Venice sophisticates the spirit. Under such an influence
fortunately one need n't explain--it keeps account of nothing but
perceptions and affections. It is from the Salute steps perhaps,
of a summer morning, that this view of the open mouth of the city
is most brilliantly amusing. The whole thing composes as if
composition were the chief end of human institutions. The
charming architectural promontory of the Dogana stretches out the
most graceful of arms, balancing in its hand the gilded globe on
which revolves the delightful satirical figure of a little
weathercock of a woman. This Fortune, this Navigation, or
whatever she is called--she surely needs no name--catches the
wind in the bit of drapery of which she has divested her rotary
bronze loveliness. On the other side of the Canal twinkles and
glitters the long row of the happy palaces which are mainly
expensive hotels. There is a little of everything everywhere, in
the bright Venetian air, but to these houses belongs especially
the appearance of sitting, across the water, at the receipt of
custom, of watching in their hypocritical loveliness for the
stranger and the victim. I call them happy, because even their
sordid uses and their vulgar signs melt somehow, with their vague
sea-stained pinks and drabs, into that strange gaiety of light
and colour which is made up of the reflection of superannuated
things. The atmosphere plays over them like a laugh, they are of
the essence of the sad old joke. They are almost as charming from
other places as they are from their own balconies, and share
fully in that universal privilege of Venetian objects which
consists of being both the picture and the point of view.

This double character, which is particularly strong in the Grand
Canal, adds a difficulty to any control of one's notes. The Grand
Canal may be practically, as in impression, the cushioned balcony
of a high and well-loved palace--the memory of irresistible
evenings, of the sociable elbow, of endless lingering and
looking; or it may evoke the restlessness of a fresh curiosity,
of methodical inquiry, in a gondola piled with references. There
are no references, I ought to mention, in the present remarks,
which sacrifice to accident, not to completeness. A rhapsody of
Venice is always in order, but I think the catalogues are
finished. I should not attempt to write here the names of all the
palaces, even if the number of those I find myself able to
remember in the immense array were less insignificant. There are
many I delight in that I don't know, or at least don't keep,
apart. Then there are the bad reasons for preference that are
better than the good, and all the sweet bribery of association
and recollection. These things, as one stands on the Salute
steps, are so many delicate fingers to pick straight out of the
row a dear little featureless house which, with its pale green
shutters, looks straight across at the great door and through the
very keyhole, as it were, of the church, and which I needn't call
by a name--a pleasant American name--that every one in Venice,
these many years, has had on grateful lips. It is the very
friendliest house in all the wide world, and it has, as it
deserves to have, the most beautiful position. It is a real
porto di mare, as the gondoliers say--a port within a
port; it sees everything that comes and goes, and takes it all in
with practised eyes. Not a tint or a hint of the immense
iridescence is lost upon it, and there are days of exquisite
colour on which it may fancy itself the heart of the wonderful
prism. We wave to it from the Salute steps, which we must
decidedly leave if we wish to get on, a grateful hand across the
water, and turn into the big white church of Longhena--an empty
shaft beneath a perfunctory dome--where an American family and a
German party, huddled in a corner upon a pair of benches, are
gazing, with a conscientiousness worthy of a better cause, at
nothing in particular.

For there is nothing particular in this cold and conventional
temple to gaze at save the great Tintoretto of the sacristy, to
which we quickly pay our respects, and which we are glad to have
for ten minutes to ourselves. The picture, though full of beauty,
is not the finest of the master's; but it serves again as well
as another to transport--there is no other word--those of his
lovers for whom, in far-away days when Venice was an early
rapture, this strange and mystifying painter was almost the
supreme revelation. The plastic arts may have less to say to us
than in the hungry years of youth, and the celebrated picture in
general be more of a blank; but more than the others any fine
Tintoret still carries us back, calling up not only the rich
particular vision but the freshness of the old wonder. Many
things come and go, but this great artist remains for us in
Venice a part of the company of the mind. The others are there in
their obvious glory, but he is the only one for whom the
imagination, in our expressive modern phrase, sits up. "The
Marriage in Cana," at the Salute, has all his characteristic and
fascinating unexpectedness--the sacrifice of the figure of our
Lord, who is reduced to the mere final point of a clever
perspective, and the free, joyous presentation of all the other
elements of the feast. Why, in spite of this queer one-sidedness,
does the picture give us no impression of a lack of what the
critics call reverence? For no other reason that I can think of
than because it happens to be the work of its author, in whose
very mistakes there is a singular wisdom. Mr. Ruskin has spoken
with sufficient eloquence of the serious loveliness of the row of
heads of the women on the right, who talk to each other as they
sit at the foreshortened banquet. There could be no better
example of the roving independence of the painter's vision, a
real spirit of adventure for which his subject was always a
cluster of accidents; not an obvious order, but a sort of peopled
and agitated chapter of life, in which the figures are submissive
pictorial notes. These notes are all there in their beauty and
heterogeneity, and if the abundance is of a kind to make the
principle of selection seem in comparison timid, yet the sense of
"composition" in the spectator--if it happen to exist--reaches
out to the painter in peculiar sympathy. Dull must be the spirit
of the worker tormented in any field of art with that particular
question who is not moved to recognise in the eternal problem the
high fellowship of Tintoretto.

If the long reach from this point to the deplorable iron bridge
which discharges the pedestrian at the Academy--or, more
comprehensively, to the painted and gilded Gothic of the noble
Palazzo Foscari--is too much of a curve to be seen at any one
point as a whole, it represents the better the arched neck, as it
were, of the undulating serpent of which the Canalazzo has the
likeness. We pass a dozen historic houses, we note in our passage
a hundred component "bits," with the baffled sketcher's sense,
and with what would doubtless be, save for our intensely Venetian
fatalism, the baffled sketcher's temper. It is the early palaces,
of course, and also, to be fair, some of the late, if we could
take them one by one, that give the Canal the best of its grand
air. The fairest are often cheek-by-jowl with the foulest, and
there are few, alas, so fair as to have been completely protected
by their beauty. The ages and the generations have worked their
will on them, and the wind and the weather have had much to say;
but disfigured and dishonoured as they are, with the bruises of
their marbles and the patience of their ruin, there is nothing
like them in the world, and the long succession of their faded,
conscious faces makes of the quiet waterway they overhang a
promenade historique of which the lesson, however often we
read it, gives, in the depth of its interest, an incomparable
dignity to Venice. We read it in the Romanesque arches, crooked
to-day in their very curves, of the early middle-age, in the
exquisite individual Gothic of the splendid time, and in the
cornices and columns of a decadence almost as proud. These things
at present are almost equally touching in their good faith; they
have each in their degree so effectually parted with their pride.
They have lived on as they could and lasted as they might, and we
hold them to no account of their infirmities, for even those of
them whose blank eyes to-day meet criticism with most submission
are far less vulgar than the uses we have mainly managed to put
them to. We have botched them and patched them and covered them
with sordid signs; we have restored and improved them with a
merciless taste, and the best of them we have made over to the
pedlars. Some of the most striking objects in the finest vistas
at present are the huge advertisements of the curiosity-shops.

The antiquity-mongers in Venice have all the courage of their
opinion, and it is easy to see how well they know they can
confound you with an unanswerable question. What is the whole
place but a curiosity-shop, and what are you here for yourself
but to pick up odds and ends? "We pick them up for you,"
say these honest Jews, whose prices are marked in dollars, "and
who shall blame us if, the flowers being pretty well plucked, we
add an artificial rose or two to the composition of the bouquet?"
They take care, in a word, that there be plenty of relics, and
their establishments are huge and active. They administer the
antidote to pedantry, and you can complain of them only if you
never cross their thresholds. If you take this step you are lost,
for you have parted with the correctness of your attitude. Venice
becomes frankly from such a moment the big depressing dazzling
joke in which after all our sense of her contradictions sinks to
rest--the grimace of an over-strained philosophy. It's rather a
comfort, for the curiosity-shops are amusing. You have bad
moments indeed as you stand in their halls of humbug and, in the
intervals of haggling, hear through the high windows the soft
splash of the sea on the old water-steps, for you think with
anger of the noble homes that are laid waste in such scenes, of
the delicate lives that must have been, that might still be, led
there. You reconstruct the admirable house according to your own
needs; leaning on a back balcony, you drop your eyes into one of
the little green gardens with which, for the most part, such
establishments are exasperatingly blessed, and end by feeling it
a shame that you yourself are not in possession. (I take for
granted, of course, that as you go and come you are, in
imagination, perpetually lodging yourself and setting up your
gods; for if this innocent pastime, this borrowing of the mind,
be not your favourite sport there is a flaw in the appeal that
Venice makes to you.) There may be happy cases in which your envy
is tempered, or perhaps I should rather say intensified, by real
participation. If you have had the good fortune to enjoy the
hospitality of an old Venetian home and to lead your life a
little in the painted chambers that still echo with one of the
historic names, you have entered by the shortest step into the
inner spirit of the place. If it did n't savour of treachery to
private kindness I should like to speak frankly of one of these
delightful, even though alienated, structures, to refer to it as
a splendid example of the old palatial type. But I can only do so
in passing, with a hundred precautions, and, lifting the curtain
at the edge, drop a commemorative word on the success with which,
in this particularly happy instance, the cosmopolite habit, the
modern sympathy, the intelligent, flexible attitude, the latest
fruit of time, adjust themselves to the great gilded,
relinquished shell and try to fill it out. A Venetian palace that
has not too grossly suffered and that is not overwhelming by its
mass makes almost any life graceful that may be led in it. With
cultivated and generous contemporary ways it reveals a pre-
established harmony. As you live in it day after day its beauty
and its interest sink more deeply into your spirit; it has its
moods and its hours and its mystic voices and its shifting
expressions. If in the absence of its masters you have happened
to have it to yourself for twenty-four hours you will never
forget the charm of its haunted stillness, late on the summer
afternoon for instance, when the call of playing children comes
in behind from the campo, nor the way the old ghosts seemed to
pass on tip-toe on the marble floors. It gives you practically
the essence of the matter that we are considering, for beneath
the high balconies Venice comes and goes, and the particular
stretch you command contains all the characteristics. Everything
has its turn, from the heavy barges of merchandise, pushed by
long poles and the patient shoulder, to the floating pavilions of
the great serenades, and you may study at your leisure the
admirable Venetian arts of managing a boat and organising a
spectacle. Of the beautiful free stroke with which the gondola,
especially when there are two oars, is impelled, you never, in
the Venetian scene, grow weary; it is always in the picture, and
the large profiled action that lets the standing rowers throw
themselves forward to a constant recovery has the double value of
being, at the fag-end of greatness, the only energetic note. The
people from the hotels are always afloat, and, at the hotel pace,
the solitary gondolier (like the solitary horseman of the old-
fashioned novel) is, I confess, a somewhat melancholy figure.
Perched on his poop without a mate, he re-enacts perpetually, in
high relief, with his toes turned out, the comedy of his odd and
charming movement. He always has a little the look of an absent-
minded nursery-maid pushing her small charges in a perambulator.

But why should I risk too free a comparison, where this
picturesque and amiable class are concerned? I delight in their
sun-burnt complexions and their childish dialect; I know them
only by their merits, and I am grossly prejudiced in their
favour. They are interesting and touching, and alike in their
virtues and their defects human nature is simplified as with a
big effective brush. Affecting above all is their dependence on
the stranger, the whimsical stranger who swims out of their ken,
yet whom Providence sometimes restores. The best of them at any
rate are in their line great artists. On the swarming feast-
days, on the strange feast-night of the Redentore, their steering
is a miracle of ease. The master-hands, the celebrities and
winners of prizes--you may see them on the private gondolas in
spotless white, with brilliant sashes and ribbons, and often with
very handsome persons--take the right of way with a pardonable
insolence. They penetrate the crush of boats with an authority of
their own. The crush of boats, the universal sociable bumping and
squeezing, is great when, on the summer nights, the ladies shriek
with alarm, the city pays the fiddlers, and the illuminated
barges, scattering music and song, lead a long train down the
Canal. The barges used to be rowed in rhythmic strokes, but now
they are towed by the steamer. The coloured lamps, the vocalists
before the hotels, are not to my sense the greatest seduction of
Venice; but it would be an uncandid sketch of the Canalazzo that
shouldn't touch them with indulgence. Taking one nuisance with
another, they are probably the prettiest in the world, and if
they have in general more magic for the new arrival than for the
old Venice-lover, they in any case, at their best, keep up the
immemorial tradition. The Venetians have had from the beginning
of time the pride of their processions and spectacles, and it's a
wonder how with empty pockets they still make a clever show. The
Carnival is dead, but these are the scraps of its inheritance.
Vauxhall on the water is of course more Vauxhall than ever, with
the good fortune of home-made music and of a mirror that
reduplicates and multiplies. The feast of the Redeemer--the great
popular feast of the year--is a wonderful Venetian Vauxhall. All
Venice on this occasion takes to the boats for the night and
loads them with lamps and provisions. Wedged together in a mass
it sups and sings; every boat is a floating arbour, a private
café-concert. Of all Christian commemorations it is the
most ingenuously and harmlessly pagan. Toward morning the
passengers repair to the Lido, where, as the sun rises, they
plunge, still sociably, into the sea. The night of the Redentore
has been described, but it would be interesting to have an
account, from the domestic point of view, of its usual morrow. It
is mainly an affair of the Giudecca, however, which is bridged
over from the Zattere to the great church. The pontoons are laid
together during the day--it is all done with extraordinary
celerity and art--and the bridge is prolonged across the
Canalazzo (to Santa Maria Zobenigo), which is my only warrant for
glancing at the occasion. We glance at it from our palace
windows; lengthening our necks a little, as we look up toward the
Salute, we see all Venice, on the July afternoon, so serried as
to move slowly, pour across the temporary footway. It is a flock
of very good children, and the bridged Canal is their toy. All
Venice on such occasions is gentle and friendly; not even all
Venice pushes anyone into the water.

But from the same high windows we catch without any stretching
of the neck a still more indispensable note in the picture, a
famous pretender eating the bread of bitterness. This repast is
served in the open air, on a neat little terrace, by attendants
in livery, and there is no indiscretion in our seeing that the
pretender dines. Ever since the table d'hôte in "Candide" Venice
has been the refuge of monarchs in want of thrones--she would n't
know herself without her rois en exil. The exile is
agreeable and soothing, the gondola lets them down gently. Its
movement is an anodyne, its silence a philtre, and little by
little it rocks all ambitions to sleep. The proscript has plenty
of leisure to write his proclamations and even his memoirs, and I
believe he has organs in which they are published; but the only
noise he makes in the world is the harmless splash of his oars.
He comes and goes along the Canalazzo, and he might be much worse
employed. He is but one of the interesting objects it presents,
however, and I am by no means sure that he is the most striking.
He has a rival, if not in the iron bridge, which, alas, is within
our range, at least--to take an immediate example--in the
Montecuculi Palace. Far-descended and weary, but beautiful in its
crooked old age, with its lovely proportions, its delicate round
arches, its carvings and its disks of marble, is the haunted
Montecuculi. Those who have a kindness for Venetian gossip like
to remember that it was once for a few months the property of
Robert Browning, who, however, never lived in it, and who died in
the splendid Rezzonico, the residence of his son and a wonderful
cosmopolite "document," which, as it presents itself, in an
admirable position, but a short way farther down the Canal, we
can almost see, in spite of the curve, from the window at which
we stand. This great seventeenth century pile, throwing itself
upon the water with a peculiar florid assurance, a certain upward
toss of its cornice which gives it the air of a rearing sea-
horse, decorates immensely--and within, as well as without--the
wide angle that it commands.

There is a more formal greatness in the high square Gothic
Foscari, just below it, one of the noblest creations of the
fifteenth century, a masterpiece of symmetry and majesty.
Dedicated to-day to official uses--it is the property of the
State--it looks conscious of the consideration it enjoys, and is
one of the few great houses within our range whose old age
strikes us as robust and painless. It is visibly "kept up";
perhaps it is kept up too much; perhaps I am wrong in thinking so
well of it. These doubts and fears course rapidly through my
mind--I am easily their victim when it is a question of
architecture--as they are apt to do to-day, in Italy, almost
anywhere, in the presence of the beautiful, of the desecrated or
the neglected. We feel at such moments as if the eye of Mr.
Ruskin were upon us; we grow nervous and lose our confidence.
This makes me inevitably, in talking of Venice, seek a
pusillanimous safety in the trivial and the obvious. I am on firm
ground in rejoicing in the little garden directly opposite our
windows--it is another proof that they really show us everything-
-and in feeling that the gardens of Venice would deserve a page
to themselves. They are infinitely more numerous than the
arriving stranger can suppose; they nestle with a charm all their
own in the complications of most back-views. Some of them are
exquisite, many are large, and even the scrappiest have an artful
understanding, in the interest of colour, with the waterways that
edge their foundations. On the small canals, in the hunt for
amusement, they are the prettiest surprises of all. The tangle of
plants and flowers crowds over the battered walls, the greenness
makes an arrangement with the rosy sordid brick. Of all the
reflected and liquefied things in Venice, and the number of these
is countless, I think the lapping water loves them most. They are
numerous on the Canalazzo, but wherever they occur they give a
brush to the picture and in particular, it is easy to guess, give
a sweetness to the house. Then the elements are complete--the
trio of air and water and of things that grow. Venice without
them would be too much a matter of the tides and the stones. Even
the little trellises of the traghetti count charmingly as
reminders, amid so much artifice, of the woodland nature of man.
The vine-leaves, trained on horizontal poles, make a roof of
chequered shade for the gondoliers and ferrymen, who doze there
according to opportunity, or chatter or hail the approaching
"fare." There is no "hum" in Venice, so that their voices travel
far; they enter your windows and mingle even with your dreams. I
beg the reader to believe that if I had time to go into
everything, I would go into the traghetti, which have
their manners and their morals, and which used to have their
piety. This piety was always a madonnina, the protectress
of the passage--a quaint figure of the Virgin with the red spark
of a lamp at her feet. The lamps appear for the most part to have
gone out, and the images doubtless have been sold for bric-a-
. The ferrymen, for aught I know, are converted to
Nihilism--a faith consistent happily with a good stroke of
business. One of the figures has been left, however--the
Madonnetta which gives its name to a traghetto near the
Rialto. But this sweet survivor is a carven stone inserted ages
ago in the corner of an old palace and doubtless difficult of
removal. Pazienza, the day will come when so marketable a
relic will also be extracted from its socket and purchased by the
devouring American. I leave that expression, on second thought,
standing; but I repent of it when I remember that it is a
devouring American--a lady long resident in Venice and whose
kindnesses all Venetians, as well as her country-people, know,
who has rekindled some of the extinguished tapers, setting up
especially the big brave Gothic shrine, of painted and gilded
wood, which, on the top of its stout palo, sheds its
influence on the place of passage opposite the Salute.

If I may not go into those of the palaces this devious discourse
has left behind, much less may I enter the great galleries of the
Academy, which rears its blank wall, surmounted by the lion of
St. Mark, well within sight of the windows at which we are still
lingering. This wondrous temple of Venetian art--for all it
promises little from without--overhangs, in a manner, the Grand
Canal, but if we were so much as to cross its threshold we should
wander beyond recall. It contains, in some of the most
magnificent halls--where the ceilings have all the glory with
which the imagination of Venice alone could over-arch a room--
some of the noblest pictures in the world; and whether or not we
go back to them on any particular occasion for another look, it
is always a comfort to know that they are there, as the sense of
them on the spot is a part of the furniture of the mind--the
sense of them close at hand, behind every wall and under every
cover, like the inevitable reverse of a medal, of the side exposed to
the air that reflects, intensifies, completes the scene. In other
words, as it was the inevitable destiny of Venice to be painted,
and painted with passion, so the wide world of picture becomes,
as we live there, and however much we go about our affairs, the
constant habitation of our thoughts. The truth is, we are in it
so uninterruptedly, at home and abroad, that there is scarcely a
pressure upon us to seek it in one place more than in another.
Choose your standpoint at random and trust the picture to come to
you. This is manifestly why I have not, I find myself conscious,
said more about the features of the Canalazzo which occupy the
reach between the Salute and the position we have so obstinately
taken up. It is still there before us, however, and the
delightful little Palazzo Dario, intimately familiar to English
and American travellers, picks itself out in the foreshortened
brightness. The Dario is covered with the loveliest little marble
plates and sculptured circles; it is made up of exquisite pieces
--as if there had been only enough to make it small--so that it
looks, in its extreme antiquity, a good deal like a house of
cards that hold together by a tenure it would be fatal to touch.
An old Venetian house dies hard indeed, and I should add that
this delicate thing, with submission in every feature, continues
to resist the contact of generations of lodgers. It is let out in
floors (it used to be let as a whole) and in how many eager
hands--for it is in great requisition--under how many fleeting
dispensations have we not known and loved it? People are always
writing in advance to secure it, as they are to secure the
Jenkins's gondolier, and as the gondola passes we see strange
faces at the windows--though it's ten to one we recognise them--
and the millionth artist coming forth with his traps at the
water-gate. The poor little patient Dario is one of the most
flourishing booths at the fair.

The faces in the window look out at the great Sansovino--the
splendid pile that is now occupied by the Prefect. I feel
decidedly that I don't object as I ought to the palaces of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their pretensions impose
upon me, and the imagination peoples them more freely than it can
people the interiors of the prime. Was not moreover this
masterpiece of Sansovino once occupied by the Venetian post-
office, and thereby intimately connected with an ineffaceable
first impression of the author of these remarks? He had arrived,
wondering, palpitating, twenty-three years ago, after nightfall,
and, the first thing on the morrow, had repaired to the post-
office for his letters. They had been waiting a long time and
were full of delayed interest, and he returned with them to the
gondola and floated slowly down the Canal. The mixture, the
rapture, the wonderful temple of the poste restante, the
beautiful strangeness, all humanised by good news--the memory of
this abides with him still, so that there always proceeds from
the splendid waterfront I speak of a certain secret appeal,
something that seems to have been uttered first in the sonorous
chambers of youth. Of course this association falls to the
ground--or rather splashes into the water--if I am the victim of
a confusion. Was the edifice in question twenty-three
years ago the post-office, which has occupied since, for many a
day, very much humbler quarters? I am afraid to take the proper
steps for finding out, lest I should learn that during these
years I have misdirected my emotion. A better reason for the
sentiment, at any rate, is that such a great house has surely, in
the high beauty of its tiers, a refinement of its own. They make
one think of colosseums and aqueducts and bridges, and they
constitute doubtless, in Venice, the most pardonable specimen of
the imitative. I have even a timid kindness for the huge Pesaro,
far down the Canal, whose main reproach, more even than the
coarseness of its forms, is its swaggering size, its want of
consideration for the general picture, which the early examples
so reverently respect. The Pesaro is as far out of the frame as a
modern hotel, and the Cornaro, close to it, oversteps almost
equally the modesty of art. One more thing they and their kindred
do, I must add, for which, unfortunately, we can patronise them
less. They make even the most elaborate material civilisation of
the present day seem woefully shrunken and bourgeois, for
they simply--I allude to the biggest palaces--can't be lived in
as they were intended to be. The modern tenant may take in all
the magazines, but he bends not the bow of Achilles. He occupies
the place, but he doesn't fill it, and he has guests from the
neighbouring inns with ulsters and Baedekers. We are far at the
Pesaro, by the way, from our attaching window, and we take
advantage of it to go in rather a melancholy mood to the end.
The long straight vista from the Foscari to the Rialto, the
great middle stretch of the Canal, contains, as the phrase is, a
hundred objects of interest, but it contains most the bright
oddity of its general Deluge air. In all these centuries it has
never got over its resemblance to a flooded city; for some reason
or other it is the only part of Venice in which the houses look
as if the waters had overtaken them. Everywhere else they reckon
with them--have chosen them; here alone the lapping seaway seems
to confess itself an accident.


There are persons who hold this long, gay, shabby, spotty
perspective, in which, with its immense field of confused
reflection, the houses have infinite variety, the dullest
expanse in Venice. It was not dull, we imagine, for Lord Byron,
who lived in the midmost of the three Mocenigo palaces, where the
writing-table is still shown at which he gave the rein to his
passions. For other observers it is sufficiently enlivened by so
delightful a creation as the Palazzo Loredan, once a masterpiece
and at present the Municipio, not to speak of a variety of other
immemorial bits whose beauty still has a degree of freshness.
Some of the most touching relics of early Venice are here--for it
was here she precariously clustered--peeping out of a submersion
more pitiless than the sea. As we approach the Rialto indeed the
picture falls off and a comparative commonness suffuses it.
There is a wide paved walk on either side of the Canal, on which
the waterman--and who in Venice is not a waterman?--is prone to
seek repose. I speak of the summer days--it is the summer Venice
that is the visible Venice. The big tarry barges are drawn up at
the fondamenta, and the bare-legged boatmen, in faded blue
cotton, lie asleep on the hot stones. If there were no colour
anywhere else there would be enough in their tanned
personalities. Half the low doorways open into the warm interior
of waterside drinking-shops, and here and there, on the quay,
beneath the bush that overhangs the door, there are rickety
tables and chairs. Where in Venice is there not the amusement of
character and of detail? The tone in this part is very vivid, and
is largely that of the brown plebeian faces looking out of the
patchy miscellaneous houses--the faces of fat undressed women and
of other simple folk who are not aware that they enjoy, from
balconies once doubtless patrician, a view the knowing ones of
the earth come thousands of miles to envy them. The effect is
enhanced by the tattered clothes hung to dry in the windows, by
the sun-faded rags that flutter from the polished balustrades--
these are ivory-smooth with time; and the whole scene profits by
the general law that renders decadence and ruin in Venice more
brilliant than any prosperity. Decay is in this extraordinary
place golden in tint and misery couleur de rose. The
gondolas of the correct people are unmitigated sable, but the
poor market-boats from the islands are kaleidoscopic.

The Bridge of the Rialto is a name to conjure with, but, honestly
speaking, it is scarcely the gem of the composition. There are of
course two ways of taking it--from the water or from the upper
passage, where its small shops and booths abound in Venetian
character; but it mainly counts as a feature of the Canal when
seen from the gondola or even from the awful vaporetto.
The great curve of its single arch is much to be commended,
especially when, coming from the direction of the railway-
station, you see it frame with its sharp compass-line the perfect
picture, the reach of the Canal on the other side. But the backs
of the little shops make from the water a graceless collective
hump, and the inside view is the diverting one. The big arch of
the bridge--like the arches of all the bridges--is the
waterman's friend in wet weather. The gondolas, when it rains,
huddle beside the peopled barges, and the young ladies from the
hotels, vaguely fidgeting, complain of the communication of
insect life. Here indeed is a little of everything, and the
jewellers of this celebrated precinct--they have their immemorial
row--make almost as fine a show as the fruiterers. It is a
universal market, and a fine place to study Venetian types. The
produce of the islands is discharged there, and the fishmongers
announce their presence. All one's senses indeed are vigorously
attacked; the whole place is violently hot and bright, all
odorous and noisy. The churning of the screw of the
vaporetto mingles with the other sounds--not indeed that
this offensive note is confined to one part of the Canal. But
Just here the little piers of the resented steamer are
particularly near together, and it seems somehow to be always
kicking up the water. As we go further down we see it stopping
exactly beneath the glorious windows of the Ca'd'Oro. It has
chosen its position well, and who shall gainsay it for having
put itself under the protection of the most romantic facade in
Europe? The companionship of these objects is a symbol; it
expresses supremely the present and the future of Venice.
Perfect, in its prime, was the marble Ca'd'Oro, with the noble
recesses of its loggie, but even then it probably never
"met a want," like the successful vaporetto. If, however,
we are not to go into the Museo Civico--the old Museo Correr,
which rears a staring renovated front far down on the left, near
the station, so also we must keep out of the great vexed question
of steam on the Canalazzo, just as a while since we prudently
kept out of the Accademia. These are expensive and complicated
excursions. It is obvious that if the vaporetti have
contributed to the ruin of the gondoliers, already hard pressed
by fate, and to that of the palaces, whose foundations their
waves undermine, and that if they have robbed the Grand Canal of
the supreme distinction of its tranquillity, so on the other hand
they have placed "rapid transit," in the New York phrase, in
everybody's reach, and enabled everybody--save indeed those who
wouldn't for the world--to rush about Venice as furiously as
people rush about New York. The suitability of this consummation
needn't be pointed out.

Even we ourselves, in the irresistible contagion, are going so
fast now that we have only time to note in how clever and costly
a fashion the Museo Civico, the old Fondaco dei Turchi, has been
reconstructed and restored. It is a glare of white marble
without, and a series of showy majestic halls within, where a
thousand curious mementos and relics of old Venice are gathered
and classified. Of its miscellaneous treasures I fear I may
perhaps frivolously prefer the series of its remarkable living
Longhis, an illustration of manners more copious than the
celebrated Carpaccio, the two ladies with their little animals
and their long sticks. Wonderful indeed today are the museums of
Italy, where the renovations and the belle ordonnance
speak of funds apparently unlimited, in spite of the fact that
the numerous custodians frankly look starved. What is the
pecuniary source of all this civic magnificence--it is shown in a
hundred other ways--and how do the Italian cities manage to
acquit themselves of expenses that would be formidable to
communities richer and doubtless less aesthetic? Who pays the
bills for the expressive statues alone, the general exuberance of
sculpture, with which every piazzetta of almost every
village is patriotically decorated? Let us not seek an answer to
the puzzling question, but observe instead that we are passing
the mouth of the populous Canareggio, next widest of the
waterways, where the race of Shylock abides, and at the corner of
which the big colourless church of San Geremia stands gracefully
enough on guard. The Canareggio, with its wide lateral footways
and humpbacked bridges, makes on the feast of St. John an
admirable noisy, tawdry theatre for one of the prettiest and the
most infantile of the Venetian processions.

The rest of the course is a reduced magnificence, in spite of
interesting bits, of the battered pomp of the Pesaro and the
Cornaro, of the recurrent memories of royalty in exile which
cluster about the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, once the residence
of the Comte de Chambord and still that of his half-brother, in
spite too of the big Papadopoli gardens, opposite the station,
the largest private grounds in Venice, but of which Venice in
general mainly gets the benefit in the usual form of
irrepressible greenery climbing over walls and nodding at water.
The rococo church of the Scalzi is here, all marble and
malachite, all a cold, hard glitter and a costly, curly ugliness,
and here too, opposite, on the top of its high steps, is San
Simeone Profeta, I won't say immortalised, but unblushingly
misrepresented, by the perfidious Canaletto. I shall not stay to
unravel the mystery of this prosaic painter's malpractices; he
falsified without fancy, and as he apparently transposed at will
the objects he reproduced, one is never sure of the particular
view that may have constituted his subject. It would look exactly
like such and such a place if almost everything were not
different. San Simeone Profeta appears to hang there upon the
wall; but it is on the wrong side of the Canal and the other
elements quite fail to correspond. One's confusion is the
greater because one doesn't know that everything may not really
have changed, even beyond all probability--though it's only in
America that churches cross the street or the river--and the
mixture of the recognisable and the different makes the ambiguity
maddening, all the more that the painter is almost as attaching
as he is bad. Thanks at any rate to the white church, domed and
porticoed, on the top of its steps, the traveller emerging for
the first time upon the terrace of the railway-station seems to
have a Canaletto before him. He speedily discovers indeed even in
the presence of this scene of the final accents of the Canalazzo-
-there is a charm in the old pink warehouses on the hot
fondamenta--that he has something much better. He looks up
and down at the gathered gondolas; he has his surprise after all,
his little first Venetian thrill; and as the terrace of the
station ushers in these things we shall say no harm of it, though
it is not lovely. It is the beginning of his experience, but it
is the end of the Grand Canal.



There would be much to say about that golden chain of historic
cities which stretches from Milan to Venice, in which the very
names--Brescia, Verona, Mantua, Padua--are an ornament to one's
phrase; but I should have to draw upon recollections now three
years old and to make my short story a long one. Of Verona and
Venice only have I recent impressions, and even to these must I
do hasty justice. I came into Venice, just as I had done before,
toward the end of a summer's day, when the shadows begin to
lengthen and the light to glow, and found that the attendant
sensations bore repetition remarkably well. There was the same
last intolerable delay at Mestre, just before your first glimpse
of the lagoon confirms the already distinct sea-smell which has
added speed to the precursive flight of your imagination; then
the liquid level, edged afar off by its band of undiscriminated
domes and spires, soon distinguished and proclaimed, however, as
excited and contentious heads multiply at the windows of the
train; then your long rumble on the immense white railway-bridge,
which, in spite of the invidious contrast drawn, and very
properly, by Mr. Ruskin between the old and the new approach,
does truly, in a manner, shine across the green lap of the lagoon
like a mighty causeway of marble; then the plunge into the
station, which would be exactly similar to every other plunge
save for one little fact--that the keynote of the great medley of
voices borne back from the exit is not "Cab, sir!" but "Barca,

I do not mean, however, to follow the traveller through every
phase of his initiation, at the risk of stamping poor Venice
beyond repair as the supreme bugbear of literature; though for
my own part I hold that to a fine healthy romantic appetite the
subject can't be too diffusely treated. Meeting in the Piazza on
the evening of my arrival a young American painter who told me
that he had been spending the summer just where I found him, I
could have assaulted him for very envy. He was painting forsooth
the interior of St. Mark's. To be a young American painter
unperplexed by the mocking, elusive soul of things and satisfied
with their wholesome light-bathed surface and shape; keen of eye;
fond of colour, of sea and sky and anything that may chance
between them; of old lace and old brocade and old furniture (even
when made to order); of time-mellowed harmonies on nameless
canvases and happy contours in cheap old engravings; to spend
one's mornings in still, productive analysis of the clustered
shadows of the Basilica, one's afternoons anywhere, in church or
campo, on canal or lagoon, and one's evenings in star-light
gossip at Florian's, feeling the sea-breeze throb languidly
between the two great pillars of the Piazzetta and over the low
black domes of the church--this, I consider, is to be as happy as
is consistent with the preservation of reason.

The mere use of one's eyes in Venice is happiness enough, and
generous observers find it hard to keep an account of their
profits in this line. Everything the attention touches holds it,
keeps playing with it--thanks to some inscrutable flattery of the
atmosphere. Your brown-skinned, white-shirted gondolier, twisting
himself in the light, seems to you, as you lie at contemplation
beneath your awning, a perpetual symbol of Venetian "effect." The
light here is in fact a mighty magician and, with all respect to
Titian, Veronese and Tintoret, the greatest artist of them all.
You should see in places the material with which it deals--slimy
brick, marble battered and befouled, rags, dirt, decay. Sea and
sky seem to meet half-way, to blend their tones into a soft
iridescence, a lustrous compound of wave and cloud and a hundred
nameless local reflections, and then to fling the clear tissue
against every object of vision. You may see these elements at
work everywhere, but to see them in their intensity you should
choose the finest day in the month and have yourself rowed far
away across the lagoon to Torcello. Without making this excursion
you can hardly pretend to know Venice or to sympathise with that
longing for pure radiance which animated her great colourists.
It is a perfect bath of light, and I couldn't get rid of a fancy
that we were cleaving the upper atmosphere on some hurrying
cloud-skiff. At Torcello there is nothing but the light to see--
nothing at least but a sort of blooming sand-bar intersected by
a single narrow creek which does duty as a canal and occupied by
a meagre cluster of huts, the dwellings apparently of market-
gardeners and fishermen, and by a ruinous church of the eleventh
century. It is impossible to imagine a more penetrating case of
unheeded collapse. Torcello was the mother-city of Venice, and
she lies there now, a mere mouldering vestige, like a group of
weather-bleached parental bones left impiously unburied. I
stopped my gondola at the mouth of the shallow inlet and walked
along the grass beside a hedge to the low-browed, crumbling
cathedral. The charm of certain vacant grassy spaces, in Italy,
overfrowned by masses of brickwork that are honeycombed by the
suns of centuries, is something that I hereby renounce once for
all the attempt to express; but you may be sure that whenever I
mention such a spot enchantment lurks in it.

A delicious stillness covered the little campo at Torcello; I
remember none so subtly audible save that of the Roman Campagna.
There was no life but the visible tremor of the brilliant air and
the cries of half-a-dozen young children who dogged our steps and
clamoured for coppers. These children, by the way, were the
handsomest little brats in the world, and, each was furnished
with a pair of eyes that could only have signified the protest of
nature against the meanness of fortune. They were very nearly as
naked as savages, and their little bellies protruded like those
of infant cannibals in the illustrations of books of travel; but
as they scampered and sprawled in the soft, thick grass, grinning
like suddenly-translated cherubs and showing their hungry little
teeth, they suggested forcibly that the best assurance of
happiness in this world is to be found in the maximum of
innocence and the minimum of wealth. One small urchin--framed,


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