Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 2
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Clara Bell and James Waring
To Jacques Strunz.
MY DEAR STRUNZ:--I should be ungrateful if I did not set your name
at the head of one of the two tales I could never have written but
for your patient kindness and care. Accept this as my grateful
acknowledgment of the readiness with which you tried--perhaps not
very successfully--to initiate me into the mysteries of musical
knowledge. You have at least taught me what difficulties and what
labor genius must bury in those poems which procure us
transcendental pleasures. You have also afforded me the
satisfaction of laughing more than once at the expense of a self-
Some have taxed me with ignorance, not knowing that I have taken
counsel of one of our best musical critics, and had the benefit of
your conscientious help. I have, perhaps, been an inaccurate
amanuensis. If this were the case, I should be the traitorous
translator without knowing it, and I yet hope to sign myself
always one of your friends.
As all who are learned in such matters know, the Venetian aristocracy
is the first in Europe. Its /Libro d'Oro/ dates from before the
Crusades, from a time when Venice, a survivor of Imperial and
Christian Rome which had flung itself into the waters to escape the
Barbarians, was already powerful and illustrious, and the head of the
political and commercial world.
With a few rare exceptions this brilliant nobility has fallen into
utter ruin. Among the gondoliers who serve the English--to whom
history here reads the lesson of their future fate--there are
descendants of long dead Doges whose names are older than those of
sovereigns. On some bridge, as you glide past it, if you are ever in
Venice, you may admire some lovely girl in rags, a poor child
belonging, perhaps, to one of the most famous patrician families. When
a nation of kings has fallen so low, naturally some curious characters
will be met with. It is not surprising that sparks should flash out
among the ashes.
These reflections, intended to justify the singularity of the persons
who figure in this narrative, shall not be indulged in any longer, for
there is nothing more intolerable than the stale reminiscences of
those who insist on talking about Venice after so many great poets and
petty travelers. The interest of the tale requires only this record of
the most startling contrast in the life of man: the dignity and
poverty which are conspicuous there in some of the men as they are in
most of the houses.
The nobles of Venice and of Geneva, like those of Poland in former
times, bore no titles. To be named Quirini, Doria, Brignole, Morosini,
Sauli, Mocenigo, Fieschi, Cornaro, or Spinola, was enough for the
pride of the haughtiest. But all things become corrupt. At the present
day some of these families have titles.
And even at a time when the nobles of the aristocratic republics were
all equal, the title of Prince was, in fact, given at Genoa to a
member of the Doria family, who were sovereigns of the principality of
Amalfi, and a similar title was in use at Venice, justified by ancient
inheritance from Facino Cane, Prince of Varese. The Grimaldi, who
assumed sovereignty, did not take possession of Monaco till much
The last Cane of the elder branch vanished from Venice thirty years
before the fall of the Republic, condemned for various crimes more or
less criminal. The branch on whom this nominal principality then
devolved, the Cane Memmi, sank into poverty during the fatal period
between 1796 and 1814. In the twentieth year of the present century
they were represented only by a young man whose name was Emilio, and
an old palace which is regarded as one of the chief ornaments of the
Grand Canal. This son of Venice the Fair had for his whole fortune
this useless Palazzo, and fifteen hundred francs a year derived from a
country house on the Brenta, the last plot of the lands his family had
formerly owned on /terra firma/, and sold to the Austrian government.
This little income spared our handsome Emilio the ignominy of
accepting, as many nobles did, the indemnity of a franc a day, due to
every impoverished patrician under the stipulations of the cession to
At the beginning of winter, this young gentleman was still lingering
in a country house situated at the base of the Tyrolese Alps, and
purchased in the previous spring by the Duchess Cataneo. The house,
erected by Palladio for the Piepolo family, is a square building of
the finest style of architecture. There is a stately staircase with a
marble portico on each side; the vestibules are crowded with frescoes,
and made light by sky-blue ceilings across which graceful figures
float amid ornament rich in design, but so well proportioned that the
building carries it, as a woman carries her head-dress, with an ease
that charms the eye; in short, the grace and dignity that characterize
the /Procuratie/ in the piazetta at Venice. Stone walls, admirably
decorated, keep the rooms at a pleasantly cool temperature. Verandas
outside, painted in fresco, screen off the glare. The flooring
throughout is the old Venetian inlay of marbles, cut into unfading
The furniture, like that of all Italian palaces, was rich with
handsome silks, judiciously employed, and valuable pictures favorably
hung; some by the Genoese priest, known as /il Capucino/, several by
Leonardo da Vinci, Carlo Dolci, Tintoretto, and Titian.
The shelving gardens were full of the marvels where money has been
turned into rocky grottoes and patterns of shells,--the very madness
of craftsmanship,--terraces laid out by the fairies, arbors of sterner
aspect, where the cypress on its tall trunk, the triangular pines, and
the melancholy olive mingled pleasingly with orange trees, bays, and
myrtles, and clear pools in which blue or russet fishes swam. Whatever
may be said in favor of the natural or English garden, these trees,
pruned into parasols, and yews fantastically clipped; this luxury of
art so skilfully combined with that of nature in Court dress; those
cascades over marble steps where the water spreads so shyly, a filmy
scarf swept aside by the wind and immediately renewed; those bronzed
metal figures speechlessly inhabiting the silent grove; that lordly
palace, an object in the landscape from every side, raising its light
outline at the foot of the Alps,--all the living thoughts which
animate the stone, the bronze, and the trees, or express themselves in
garden plots,--this lavish prodigality was in perfect keeping with the
loves of a duchess and a handsome youth, for they are a poem far
removed from the coarse ends of brutal nature.
Any one with a soul for fantasy would have looked to see, on one of
those noble flights of steps, standing by a vase with medallions in
bas-relief, a negro boy swathed about the loins with scarlet stuff,
and holding in one hand a parasol over the Duchess' head, and in the
other the train of her long skirt, while she listened to Emilio Memmi.
And how far grander the Venetian would have looked in such a dress as
the Senators wore whom Titian painted.
But alas! in this fairy palace, not unlike that of the Peschieri at
Genoa, the Duchess Cataneo obeyed the edicts of Victorine and the
Paris fashions. She had on a muslin dress and broad straw hat, pretty
shot silk shoes, thread lace stockings that a breath of air would have
blown away; and over her shoulders a black lace shawl. But the thing
which no one could ever understand in Paris, where women are sheathed
in their dresses as a dragon-fly is cased in its annular armor, was
the perfect freedom with which this lovely daughter of Tuscany wore
her French attire; she had Italianized it. A Frenchwoman treats her
shirt with the greatest seriousness; an Italian never thinks about it;
she does not attempt self-protection by some prim glance, for she
knows that she is safe in that of a devoted love, a passion as sacred
and serious in her eyes as in those of others.
At eleven in the forenoon, after a walk, and by the side of a table
still strewn with the remains of an elegant breakfast, the Duchess,
lounging in an easy-chair, left her lover the master of these muslin
draperies, without a frown each time he moved. Emilio, seated at her
side, held one of her hands between his, gazing at her with utter
absorption. Ask not whether they loved; they loved only too well. They
were not reading out of the same book, like Paolo and Francesca; far
from it, Emilio dared not say: "Let us read." The gleam of those eyes,
those glistening gray irises streaked with threads of gold that
started from the centre like rifts of light, giving her gaze a soft,
star-like radiance, thrilled him with nervous rapture that was almost
a spasm. Sometimes the mere sight of the splendid black hair that
crowned the adored head, bound by a simple gold fillet, and falling in
satin tresses on each side of a spacious brow, was enough to give him
a ringing in his ears, the wild tide of the blood rushing through his
veins as if it must burst his heart. By what obscure phenomenon did
his soul so overmaster his body that he was no longer conscious of his
independent self, but was wholly one with this woman at the least word
she spoke in that voice which disturbed the very sources of life in
him? If, in utter seclusion, a woman of moderate charms can, by being
constantly studied, seem supreme and imposing, perhaps one so
magnificently handsome as the Duchess could fascinate to stupidity a
youth in whom rapture found some fresh incitement; for she had really
absorbed his young soul.
Massimilla, the heiress of the Doni, of Florence, had married the
Sicilian Duke Cataneo. Her mother, since dead, had hoped, by promoting
this marriage, to leave her rich and happy, according to Florentine
custom. She had concluded that her daughter, emerging from a convent
to embark in life, would achieve, under the laws of love, that second
union of heart with heart which, to an Italian woman, is all in all.
But Massimilla Doni had acquired in her convent a real taste for a
religious life, and, when she had pledged her troth to Duke Cataneo,
she was Christianly content to be his wife.
This was an untenable position. Cataneo, who only looked for a
duchess, thought himself ridiculous as a husband; and, when Massimilla
complained of this indifference, he calmly bid her look about her for
a /cavaliere servente/, even offering his services to introduce to her
some youths from whom to choose. The Duchess wept; the Duke made his
Massimilla looked about her at the world that crowded round her; her
mother took her to the Pergola, to some ambassadors' drawing-rooms, to
the Cascine--wherever handsome young men of fashion were to be met;
she saw none to her mind, and determined to travel. Then she lost her
mother, inherited her property, assumed mourning, and made her way to
Venice. There she saw Emilio, who, as he went past her opera box,
exchanged with her a flash of inquiry.
This was all. The Venetian was thunderstruck, while a voice in the
Duchess' ear called out: "This is he!"
Anywhere else two persons more prudent and less guileless would have
studied and examined each other; but these two ignorances mingled like
two masses of homogeneous matter, which, when they meet, form but one.
Massimilla was at once and thenceforth Venetian. She bought the
palazzo she had rented on the Canareggio; and then, not knowing how to
invest her wealth, she had purchased Rivalta, the country-place where
she was now staying.
Emilio, being introduced to the Duchess by the Signora Vulpato, waited
very respectfully on the lady in her box all through the winter. Never
was love more ardent in two souls, or more bashful in its advances.
The two children were afraid of each other. Massimilla was no
coquette. She had no second string to her bow, no /secondo/, no
/terzo/, no /patito/. Satisfied with a smile and a word, she admired
her Venetian youth, with his pointed face, his long, thin nose, his
black eyes, and noble brow; but, in spite of her artless
encouragement, he never went to her house till they had spent three
months in getting used to each other.
Then summer brought its Eastern sky. The Duchess lamented having to go
alone to Rivalta. Emilio, at once happy and uneasy at the thought of
being alone with her, had accompanied Massimilla to her retreat. And
now this pretty pair had been there for six months.
Massimilla, now twenty, had not sacrificed her religious principles to
her passion without a struggle. Still they had yielded, though
tardily; and at this moment she would have been ready to consummate
the love union for which her mother had prepared her, as Emilio sat
there holding her beautiful, aristocratic hand,--long, white, and
sheeny, ending in fine, rosy nails, as if she had procured from Asia
some of the henna with which the Sultan's wives dye their fingertips.
A misfortune, of which she was unconscious, but which was torture to
Emilio, kept up a singular barrier between them. Massimilla, young as
she was, had the majestic bearing which mythological tradition
ascribes to Juno, the only goddess to whom it does not give a lover;
for Diana, the chaste Diana, loved! Jupiter alone could hold his own
with his divine better-half, on whom many English ladies model
Emilio set his mistress far too high ever to touch her. A year hence,
perhaps, he might not be a victim to this noble error which attacks
none but very young or very old men. But as the archer who shoots
beyond the mark is as far from it as he whose arrow falls short of it,
the Duchess found herself between a husband who knew he was so far
from reaching the target, that he had ceased to try for it, and a
lover who was carried so much past it on the white wings of an angel,
that he could not get back to it. Massimilla could be happy with
desire, not imagining its issue; but her lover, distressful in his
happiness, would sometimes obtain from his beloved a promise that led
her to the edge of what many women call "the gulf," and thus found
himself obliged to be satisfied with plucking the flowers at the edge,
incapable of daring more than to pull off their petals, and smother
his torture in his heart.
They had wandered out together that morning, repeating such a hymn of
love as the birds warbled in the branches. On their return, the youth,
whose situation can only be described by comparing him to the cherubs
represented by painters as having only a head and wings, had been so
impassioned as to venture to hint a doubt as to the Duchess' entire
devotion, so as to bring her to the point of saying: "What proof do
The question had been asked with a royal air, and Memmi had ardently
kissed the beautiful and guileless hand. Then he suddenly started up
in a rage with himself, and left the Duchess. Massimilla remained in
her indolent attitude on the sofa; but she wept, wondering how, young
and handsome as she was, she could fail to please Emilio. Memmi, on
the other hand, knocked his head against the tree-trunks like a hooded
But at this moment a servant came in pursuit of the young Venetian to
deliver a letter brought by express messenger.
Marco Vendramini,--a name also pronounced Vendramin, in the Venetian
dialect, which drops many final letters,--his only friend, wrote to
tell him that Facino Cane, Prince of Varese, had died in a hospital in
Paris. Proofs of his death had come to hand, and the Cane-Memmi were
Princes of Varese. In the eyes of the two young men a title without
wealth being worthless, Vendramin also informed Emilio, as a far more
important fact, of the engagement at the /Fenice/ of the famous tenor
Genovese, and the no less famous Signora Tinti.
Without waiting to finish the letter, which he crumpled up and put in
his pocket, Emilio ran to communicate this great news to the Duchess,
forgetting his heraldic honors.
The Duchess knew nothing of the strange story which made la Tinti an
object of curiosity in Italy, and Emilio briefly repeated it.
This illustrious singer had been a mere inn-servant, whose wonderful
voice had captivated a great Sicilian nobleman on his travels. The
girl's beauty--she was then twelve years old--being worthy of her
voice, the gentleman had had the moderation to have brought her up, as
Louis XV. had Mademoiselle de Romans educated. He had waited patiently
till Clara's voice had been fully trained by a famous professor, and
till she was sixteen, before taking toll of the treasure so carefully
La Tinti had made her debut the year before, and had enchanted the
three most fastidious capitals of Italy.
"I am perfectly certain that her great nobleman is not my husband,"
said the Duchess.
The horses were ordered, and the Duchess set out at once for Venice,
to be present at the opening of the winter season.
So one fine evening in November, the new Prince of Varese was crossing
the lagoon from Mestre to Venice, between the lines of stakes painted
with Austrian colors, which mark out the channel for gondolas as
conceded by the custom-house. As he watched Massimilla's gondola,
navigated by men in livery, and cutting through the water a few yards
in front, poor Emilio, with only an old gondolier who had been his
father's servant in the days when Venice was still a living city,
could not repress the bitter reflections suggested to him by the
assumption of his title.
"What a mockery of fortune! A prince--with fifteen hundred francs a
year! Master of one of the finest palaces in the world, and unable to
sell the statues, stairs, paintings, sculpture, which an Austrian
decree had made inalienable! To live on a foundation of piles of
campeachy wood worth nearly a million of francs, and have no
furniture! To own sumptuous galleries, and live in an attic above the
topmost arabesque cornice constructed of marble brought from the Morea
--the land which a Memmius had marched over as conqueror in the time
of the Romans! To see his ancestors in effigy on their tombs of
precious marbles in one of the most splendid churches in Venice, and
in a chapel graced with pictures by Titian and Tintoretto, by Palma,
Bellini, Paul Veronese--and to be prohibited from selling a marble
Memmi to the English for bread for the living Prince Varese! Genovese,
the famous tenor, could get in one season, by his warbling, the
capital of an income on which this son of the Memmi could live--this
descendant of Roman senators as venerable as Caesar and Sylla.
Genovese may smoke an Eastern hookah, and the Prince of Varese cannot
even have enough cigars!"
He tossed the end he was smoking into the sea. The Prince of Varese
found cigars at the Duchess Cataneo's; how gladly would he have laid
the treasures of the world at her feet! She studied all his caprices,
and was happy to gratify them. He made his only meal at her house--his
supper; for all his money was spent in clothes and his place in the
/Fenice/. He had also to pay a hundred francs a year as wages to his
father's old gondolier; and he, to serve him for that sum, had to live
exclusively on rice. Also he kept enough to take a cup of black coffee
every morning at Florian's to keep himself up till the evening in a
state of nervous excitement, and this habit, carried to excess, he
hoped would in due time kill him, as Vendramin relied on opium.
"And I am a prince!"
As he spoke the words, Emilio Memmi tossed Marco Vendramin's letter
into the lagoon without even reading it to the end, and it floated
away like a paper boat launched by a child.
"But Emilio," he went on to himself, "is but three and twenty. He is a
better man than Lord Wellington with the gout, than the paralyzed
Regent, than the epileptic royal family of Austria, than the King of
But as he thought of the King of France Emilio's brow was knit, his
ivory skin burned yellower, tears gathered in his black eyes and hung
to his long lashes; he raised a hand worthy to be painted by Titian to
push back his thick brown hair, and gazed again at Massimilla's
"And this insolent mockery of fate is carried even into my love
affair," said he to himself. "My heart and imagination are full of
precious gifts; Massimilla will have none of them; she is a
Florentine, and she will throw me over. I have to sit by her side like
ice, while her voice and her looks fire me with heavenly sensations!
As I watch her gondola a few hundred feet away from my own I feel as
if a hot iron were set on my heart. An invisible fluid courses through
my frame and scorches my nerves, a cloud dims my sight, the air seems
to me to glow as it did at Rivalta when the sunlight came through a
red silk blind, and I, without her knowing it, could admire her lost
in dreams, with her subtle smile like that of Leonardo's Mona Lisa.
Well, either my Highness will end my days by a pistol-shot, or the
heir of the Cane will follow old Carmagnola's advice; we will be
sailors, pirates; and it will be amusing to see how long we can live
without being hanged."
The Prince lighted another cigar, and watched the curls of smoke as
the wind wafted them away, as though he saw in their arabesques an
echo of this last thought.
In the distance he could now perceive the mauresque pinnacles that
crowned his palazzo, and he was sadder than ever. The Duchess' gondola
had vanished in the Canareggio.
These fantastic pictures of a romantic and perilous existence, as the
outcome of his love, went out with his cigar, and his lady's gondola
no longer traced his path. Then he saw the present in its real light:
a palace without a soul, a soul that had no effect on the body, a
principality without money, an empty body and a full heart--a thousand
heartbreaking contradictions. The hapless youth mourned for Venice as
she had been,--as did Vendramini, even more bitterly, for it was a
great and common sorrow, a similar destiny, that had engendered such a
warm friendship between these two young men, the wreckage of two
Emilio could not help dreaming of a time when the palazzo Memmi poured
out light from every window, and rang with music carried far away over
the Adriatic tide; when hundreds of gondolas might be seen tied up to
its mooring-posts, while graceful masked figures and the magnates of
the Republic crowded up the steps kissed by the waters; when its halls
and gallery were full of a throng of intriguers or their dupes; when
the great banqueting-hall, filled with merry feasters, and the upper
balconies furnished with musicians, seemed to harbor all Venice coming
and going on the great staircase that rang with laughter.
The chisels of the greatest artists of many centuries had sculptured
the bronze brackets supporting long-necked or pot-bellied Chinese
vases, and the candelabra for a thousand tapers. Every country had
furnished some contribution to the splendor that decked the walls and
ceilings. But now the panels were stripped of the handsome hangings,
the melancholy ceilings were speechless and sad. No Turkey carpets, no
lustres bright with flowers, no statues, no pictures, no more joy, no
money--the great means to enjoyment! Venice, the London of the Middle
Ages, was falling stone by stone, man by man. The ominous green weed
which the sea washes and kisses at the foot of every palace, was in
the Prince's eyes, a black fringe hung by nature as an omen of death.
And finally, a great English poet had rushed down on Venice like a
raven on a corpse, to croak out in lyric poetry--the first and last
utterance of social man--the burden of a /de profundis/. English
poetry! Flung in the face of the city that had given birth to Italian
poetry! Poor Venice!
Conceive, then, of the young man's amazement when roused from such
meditations by Carmagnola's cry:
"Serenissimo, the palazzo is on fire, or the old Doges have risen from
their tombs! There are lights in the windows of the upper floor!"
Prince Emilio fancied that his dream was realized by the touch of a
magic wand. It was dusk, and the old gondolier could by tying up his
gondola to the top step, help his young master to land without being
seen by the bustling servants in the palazzo, some of whom were
buzzing about the landing-place like bees at the door of a hive.
Emilio stole into the great hall, whence rose the finest flight of
stairs in all Venice, up which he lightly ran to investigate the cause
of this strange bustle.
A whole tribe of workmen were hurriedly completing the furnishing and
redecoration of the palace. The first floor, worthy of the antique
glories of Venice, displayed to Emilio's waking eyes the magnificence
of which he had just been dreaming, and the fairy had exercised
admirable taste. Splendor worthy of a parvenu sovereign was to be seen
even in the smallest details. Emilio wandered about without remark
from anybody, and surprise followed on surprise.
Curious, then, to know what was going forward on the second floor, he
went up, and found everything finished. The unknown laborers,
commissioned by a wizard to revive the marvels of the Arabian nights
in behalf of an impoverished Italian prince, were exchanging some
inferior articles of furniture brought in for the nonce. Prince Emilio
made his way into the bedroom, which smiled on him like a shell just
deserted by Venus. The room was so charmingly pretty, so daintily
smart, so full of elegant contrivance, that he straightway seated
himself in an armchair of gilt wood, in front of which a most
appetizing cold supper stood ready, and, without more ado, proceeded
"In all the world there is no one but Massimilla who would have
thought of this surprise," thought he. "She heard that I was now a
prince; Duke Cataneo is perhaps dead, and has left her his fortune;
she is twice as rich as she was; she will marry me----"
And he ate in a way that would have roused the envy of an invalid
Croesus, if he could have seen him; and he drank floods of capital
"Now I understand the knowing little air she put on as she said, 'Till
this evening!' Perhaps she means to come and break the spell. What a
fine bed! and in the bed-place such a pretty lamp! Quite a Florentine
There are some strongly blended natures on which extremes of joy or of
grief have a soporific effect. Now on a youth so compounded that he
could idealize his mistress to the point of ceasing to think of her as
a woman, this sudden incursion of wealth had the effect of a dose of
opium. When the Prince had drunk the whole of the bottle of port,
eaten half a fish and some portion of a French pate, he felt an
irresistible longing for bed. Perhaps he was suffering from a double
intoxication. So he pulled off the counterpane, opened the bed,
undressed in a pretty dressing-room, and lay down to meditate on
"I forgot poor Carmagnola," said he; "but my cook and butler will have
provided for him."
At this juncture, a waiting-woman came in, lightly humming an air from
the /Barbiere/. She tossed a woman's dress on a chair, a whole outfit
for the night, and said as she did so:
"Here they come!"
And in fact a few minutes later a young lady came in, dressed in the
latest French style, who might have sat for some English fancy
portrait engraved for a /Forget-me-not/, a /Belle Assemblee/, or a
/Book of Beauty/.
The Prince shivered with delight and with fear, for, as you know, he
was in love with Massimilla. But, in spite of this faith in love which
fired his blood, and which of old inspired the painters of Spain,
which gave Italy her Madonnas, created Michael Angelo's statues and
Ghilberti's doors of the Baptistery,--desire had him in its toils, and
agitated him without infusing into his heart that warm, ethereal glow
which he felt at a look or a word from the Duchess. His soul, his
heart, his reason, every impulse of his will, revolted at the thought
of an infidelity; and yet that brutal, unreasoning infidelity
domineered over his spirit. But the woman was not alone.
The Prince saw one of those figures in which nobody believes when they
are transferred from real life, where we wonder at them, to the
imaginary existence of a more or less literary description. The dress
of this stranger, like that of all Neapolitans, displayed five colors,
if the black of his hat may count for a color; his trousers were
olive-brown, his red waistcoat shone with gilt buttons, his coat was
greenish, and his linen was more yellow than white. This personage
seemed to have made it his business to verify the Neapolitan as
represented by Gerolamo on the stage of his puppet show. His eyes
looked like glass beads. His nose, like the ace of clubs, was horribly
long and bulbous; in fact, it did its best to conceal an opening which
it would be an insult to the human countenance to call a mouth;
within, three or four tusks were visible, endowed, as it seemed, with
a proper motion and fitting into each other. His fleshy ears drooped
by their own weight, giving the creature a whimsical resemblance to a
His complexion, tainted, no doubt, by various metallic infusions as
prescribed by some Hippocrates, verged on black. A pointed skull,
scarcely covered by a few straight hairs like spun glass, crowned this
forbidding face with red spots. Finally, though the man was very thin
and of medium height, he had long arms and broad shoulders.
In spite of these hideous details, and though he looked fully seventy,
he did not lack a certain cyclopean dignity; he had aristocratic
manners and the confident demeanor of a rich man.
Any one who could have found courage enough to study him, would have
seen his history written by base passions on this noble clay degraded
to mud. Here was the man of high birth, who, rich from his earliest
youth, had given up his body to debauchery for the sake of extravagant
enjoyment. And debauchery had destroyed the human being and made
another after its own image. Thousands of bottles of wine had
disappeared under the purple archway of that preposterous nose, and
left their dregs on his lips. Long and slow digestion had destroyed
his teeth. His eyes had grown dim under the lamps of the gaming table.
The blood tainted with impurities had vitiated the nervous system. The
expenditure of force in the task of digestion had undermined his
intellect. Finally, amours had thinned his hair. Each vice, like a
greedy heir, had stamped possession on some part of the living body.
Those who watch nature detect her in jests of the shrewdest irony. For
instance, she places toads in the neighborhood of flowers, as she had
placed this man by the side of this rose of love.
"Will you play the violin this evening, my dear Duke?" asked the
woman, as she unhooked a cord to let a handsome curtain fall over the
"Play the violin!" thought Prince Emilio. "What can have happened to
my palazzo? Am I awake? Here I am, in that woman's bed, and she
certainly thinks herself at home--she has taken off her cloak! Have I,
like Vendramin, inhaled opium, and am I in the midst of one of those
dreams in which he sees Venice as it was three centuries ago?"
The unknown fair one, seated in front of a dressing-table blazing with
wax lights, was unfastening her frippery with the utmost calmness.
"Ring for Giulia," said she; "I want to get my dress off."
At that instant, the Duke noticed that the supper had been disturbed;
he looked round the room, and discovered the Prince's trousers hanging
over a chair at the foot of the bed.
"Clarina, I will not ring!" cried the Duke, in a shrill voice of fury.
"I will not play the violin this evening, nor tomorrow, nor ever
"Ta, ta, ta, ta!" sang Clarina, on the four octaves of the same note,
leaping from one to the next with the ease of a nightingale.
"In spite of that voice, which would make your patron saint Clara
envious, you are really too impudent, you rascally hussy!"
"You have not brought me up to listen to such abuse," said she, with
"Have I brought you up to hide a man in your bed? You are unworthy
alike of my generosity and of my hatred--"
"A man in my bed!" exclaimed Clarina, hastily looking round.
"And after daring to eat our supper, as if he were at home," added the
"But am I not at home?" cried Emilio. "I am the Prince of Varese; this
palace is mine."
As he spoke, Emilio sat up in bed, his handsome and noble Venetian
head framed in the flowing hangings.
At first Clarina laughed--one of those irrepressible fits of laughter
which seize a girl when she meets with an adventure comic beyond all
conception. But her laughter ceased as she saw the young man, who, as
has been said, was remarkably handsome, though but lightly attired;
the madness that possessed Emilio seized her, too, and, as she had no
one to adore, no sense of reason bridled her sudden fancy--a Sicilian
woman in love.
"Although this is the palazzo Memmi, I will thank your Highness to
quit," said the Duke, assuming the cold irony of a polished gentleman.
"I am at home here."
"Let me tell you, Monsieur le Duc, that you are in my room, not in
your own," said Clarina, rousing herself from her amazement. "If you
have any doubts of my virtue, at any rate give me the benefit of my
"Doubts! Say proof positive, my lady!"
"I swear to you that I am innocent," replied Clarina.
"What, then, do I see in that bed?" asked the Duke.
"Old Ogre!" cried Clarina. "If you believe your eyes rather than my
assertion, you have ceased to love me. Go, and do not weary my ears!
Do you hear? Go, Monsieur le Duc. This young Prince will repay you the
million francs I have cost you, if you insist."
"I will repay nothing," said Emilio in an undertone.
"There is nothing due! A million is cheap for Clara Tinti when a man
is so ugly. Now, go," said she to the Duke. "You dismissed me; now I
dismiss you. We are quits."
At a gesture on Cataneo's part, as he seemed inclined to dispute this
order, which was given with an action worthy of Semiramis,--the part
in which la Tinti had won her fame,--the prima donna flew at the old
ape and put him out of the room.
"If you do not leave me in quiet this evening, we never meet again.
And my /never/ counts for more than yours," she added.
"Quiet!" retorted the Duke, with a bitter laugh. "Dear idol, it
strikes me that I am leaving you /agitata/!"
The Duke departed.
His mean spirit was no surprise to Emilio.
Every man who has accustomed himself to some particular taste, chosen
from among the various effects of love, in harmony with his own
nature, knows that no consideration can stop a man who has allowed his
passions to become a habit.
Clarina bounded like a fawn from the door to the bed.
"A prince, and poor, young, and handsome!" cried she. "Why, it is a
The Sicilian perched herself on the bed with the artless freedom of an
animal, the yearning of a plant for the sun, the airy motion of a
branch waltzing to the breeze. As she unbuttoned the wristbands of her
sleeves, she began to sing, not in the pitch that won her the applause
of an audience at the /Fenice/, but in a warble tender with emotion.
Her song was a zephyr carrying the caresses of her love to the heart.
She stole a glance at Emilio, who was as much embarrassed as she; for
this woman of the stage had lost all the boldness that had sparkled in
her eyes and given decision to her voice and gestures when she
dismissed the Duke. She was as humble as a courtesan who has fallen in
To picture la Tinti you must recall one of our best French singers
when she came out in /Il Fazzoletto/, an opera by Garcia that was then
being played by an Italian company at the theatre in the Rue Lauvois.
She was so beautiful that a Naples guardsman, having failed to win a
hearing, killed himself in despair. The prima donna of the /Fenice/
had the same refinement of features, the same elegant figure, and was
equally young; but she had in addition the warm blood of Sicily that
gave a glow to her loveliness. Her voice was fuller and richer, and
she had that air of native majesty that is characteristic of Italian
La Tinti--whose name also resembled that which the French singer
assumed--was now seventeen, and the poor Prince three-and-twenty. What
mocking hand had thought it sport to bring the match so near the
powder? A fragrant room hung with rose-colored silk and brilliant with
wax lights, a bed dressed in lace, a silent palace, and Venice! Two
young and beautiful creatures! every ravishment at once.
Emilio snatched up his trousers, jumped out of bed, escaped into the
dressing-room, put on his clothes, came back and hurried to the door.
These were his thoughts while dressing:--
"Massimilla, beloved daughter of the Doni, in whom Italian beauty is
an hereditary prerogative, you who are worthy of the portrait of
/Margherita/, one of the few canvases painted entirely by Raphael to
his glory! My beautiful and saintly mistress, shall I not have
deserved you if I fly from this abyss of flowers? Should I be worthy
of you if I profaned a heart that is wholly yours? No; I will not fall
into the vulgar snare laid for me by my rebellious senses! This girl
has her Duke, mine be my Duchess!"
As he lifted the curtain, he heard a moan. The heroic lover looked
round and saw Clarina on her knees, her face hidden in the bed,
choking with sobs. Is it to be believed? The singer was lovelier
kneeling thus, her face invisible, than even in her confusion with a
glowing countenance. Her hair, which had fallen over her shoulders,
her Magdalen-like attitude, the disorder of her half-unfastened dress,
--the whole picture had been composed by the devil, who, as is well
known, is a fine colorist.
The Prince put his arm round the weeping girl, who slipped from him
like a snake, and clung to one foot, pressing it to her beautiful
"Will you explain to me," said he, shaking his foot to free it from
her embrace, "how you happen to be in my palazzo? How the impoverished
"Emilio Memmi!" cried Tinti, rising. "You said you were a Prince."
"A Prince since yesterday."
"You are in love with the Duchess Cataneo!" said she, looking at him
from head to foot.
Emilio stood mute, seeing that the prima dona was smiling at him
through her tears.
"Your Highness does not know that the man who had me trained for the
stage--that the Duke--is Cataneo himself. And your friend Vendramini,
thinking to do you a service, let him this palace for a thousand
crowns, for the period of my season at the /Fenice/. Dear idol of my
heart!" she went on, taking his hand and drawing him towards her, "why
do you fly from one for whom many a man would run the risk of broken
bones? Love, you see, is always love. It is the same everywhere; it is
the sun of our souls; we can warm ourselves whenever it shines, and
here--now--it is full noonday. If to-morrow you are not satisfied,
kill me! But I shall survive, for I am a real beauty!"
Emilio decided on remaining. When he signified his consent by a nod
the impulse of delight that sent a shiver through Clarina seemed to
him like a light from hell. Love had never before appeared to him in
so impressive a form.
At that moment Carmagnola whistled loudly.
"What can he want of me?" said the Prince.
But bewildered by love, Emilio paid no heed to the gondolier's
If you have never traveled in Switzerland you may perhaps read this
description with pleasure; and if you have clambered among those
mountains you will not be sorry to be reminded of the scenery.
In that sublime land, in the heart of a mass of rock riven by a gorge,
--a valley as wide as the Avenue de Neuilly in Paris, but a hundred
fathoms deep and broken into ravines,--flows a torrent coming from
some tremendous height of the Saint-Gothard on the Simplon, which has
formed a pool, I know not how many yards deep or how many feet long
and wide, hemmed in by splintered cliffs of granite on which meadows
find a place, with fir-trees between them, and enormous elms, and
where violets also grow, and strawberries. Here and there stands a
chalet and at the window you may see the rosy face of a yellow-haired
Swiss girl. According to the moods of the sky the water in this tarn
is blue and green, but as a sapphire is blue, as an emerald is green.
Well, nothing in the world can give such an idea of depth, peace,
immensity, heavenly love, and eternal happiness--to the most heedless
traveler, the most hurried courier, the most commonplace tradesman--as
this liquid diamond into which the snow, gathering from the highest
Alps, trickles through a natural channel hidden under the trees and
eaten through the rock, escaping below through a gap without a sound.
The watery sheet overhanging the fall glides so gently that no ripple
is to be seen on the surface which mirrors the chaise as you drive
past. The postboy smacks his whip; you turn past a crag; you cross a
bridge: suddenly there is a terrific uproar of cascades tumbling
together one upon another. The water, taking a mighty leap, is broken
into a hundred falls, dashed to spray on the boulders; it sparkles in
a myriad jets against a mass that has fallen from the heights that
tower over the ravine exactly in the middle of the road that has been
so irresistibly cut by the most formidable of active forces.
If you have formed a clear idea of this landscape, you will see in
those sleeping waters the image of Emilio's love for the Duchess, and
in the cascades leaping like a flock of sheep, an idea of his passion
shared with la Tinti. In the midst of his torrent of love a rock stood
up against which the torrent broke. The Prince, like Sisyphus, was
constantly under the stone.
"What on earth does the Duke do with a violin?" he wondered. "Do I owe
this symphony to him?"
He asked Clara Tinti.
"My dear child,"--for she saw that Emilio was but a child,--"dear
child," said she, "that man, who is a hundred and eighteen in the
parish register of vice, and only forty-seven in the register of the
Church, has but one single joy left to him in life. Yes, everything is
broken, everything in him is ruin or rags; his soul, intellect, heart,
nerves,--everything in man that can supply an impulse and remind him
of heaven, either by desire or enjoyment, is bound up with music, or
rather with one of the many effects produced by music, the perfect
unison of two voices, or of a voice with the top string of his violin.
The old ape sits on my knee, takes his instrument,--he plays fairly
well,--he produces the notes, and I try to imitate them. Then, when
the long-sought-for moment comes when it is impossible to distinguish
in the body of sound which is the note on the violin and which
proceeds from my throat, the old man falls into an ecstasy, his dim
eyes light up with their last remaining fires, he is quite happy and
will roll on the floor like a drunken man.
"That is why he pays Genovese such a price. Genovese is the only tenor
whose voice occasionally sounds in unison with mine. Either we really
do sing exactly together once or twice in an evening, or the Duke
imagines that we do; and for that imaginary pleasure he has bought
Genovese. Genovese belongs to him. No theatrical manager can engage
that tenor without me, nor have me to sing without him. The Duke
brought me up on purpose to gratify that whim; to him I owe my talent,
my beauty,--my fortune, no doubt. He will die of an attack of perfect
unison. The sense of hearing alone has survived the wreck of his
faculties; that is the only thread by which he holds on to life. A
vigorous shoot springs from that rotten stump. There are, I am told,
many men in the same predicament. May Madonna preserve them!
"You have not come to that! You can do all you want--all I want of
you, I know."
Towards morning the Prince stole away and found Carmagnola lying
asleep across the door.
"Altezza," said the gondolier, "the Duchess ordered me to give you
He held out a dainty sheet of paper folded into a triangle. The Prince
felt dizzy; he went back into the room and dropped into a chair, for
his sight was dim, and his hands shook as he read:--
"DEAR EMILIO:--Your gondola stopped at your palazzo. Did you not
know that Cataneo has taken it for la Tinti? If you love me, go
to-night to Vendramin, who tells me he has a room ready for you in
his house. What shall I do? Can I remain in Venice to see my
husband and his opera singer? Shall we go back together to Friuli?
Write me one word, if only to tell me what the letter was you
tossed into the lagoon.
The writing and the scent of the paper brought a thousand memories
back to the young Venetian's mind. The sun of a single-minded passion
threw its radiance on the blue depths come from so far, collected in a
bottomless pool, and shining like a star. The noble youth could not
restrain the tears that flowed freely from his eyes, for in the
languid state produced by satiated senses he was disarmed by the
thought of that purer divinity.
Even in her sleep Clarina heard his weeping; she sat up in bed, saw
her Prince in a dejected attitude, and threw herself at his knees.
"They are still waiting for the answer," said Carmagnola, putting the
"Wretch, you have undone me!" cried Emilio, starting up and spurning
Clarina with his foot.
She clutched it so lovingly, her look imploring some explanation,--the
look of a tear-stained Samaritan,--that Emilio, enraged to find
himself still in the toils of the passion that had wrought his fall,
pushed away the singer with an unmanly kick.
"You told me to kill you,--then die, venomous reptile!" he exclaimed.
He left the palace, and sprang into his gondola.
"Pull," said he to Carmagnola.
"Where?" asked the old servant.
"Where you will."
The gondolier divined his master's wishes, and by many windings
brought him at last into the Canareggio, to the door of a wonderful
palazzo, which you will admire when you see Venice, for no traveler
ever fails to stop in front of those windows, each of a different
design, vying with each other in fantastic ornament, with balconies
like lace-work; to study the corners finishing in tall and slender
twisted columns, the string-courses wrought by so inventive a chisel
that no two shapes are alike in the arabesques on the stones.
How charming is that doorway! how mysterious the vaulted arcade
leading to the stairs! Who could fail to admire the steps on which
ingenious art has laid a carpet that will last while Venice stands,--a
carpet as rich as if wrought in Turkey, but composed of marbles in
endless variety of shapes, inlaid in white marble. You will delight in
the charming ornament of the colonnades of the upper story,--gilt like
those of a ducal palace,--so that the marvels of art are both under
your feet and above your head.
What delicate shadows! How silent, how cool! But how solemn, too, was
that old palace! where, to delight Emilio and his friend Vendramin,
the Duchess had collected antique Venetian furniture, and employed
skilled hands to restore the ceilings. There, old Venice lived again.
The splendor was not merely noble, it was instructive. The
archaeologist would have found there such models of perfection as the
middle ages produced, having taken example from Venice. Here were to
be seen the original ceilings of woodwork covered with scrolls and
flowers in gold on a colored ground, or in colors on gold, and
ceilings of gilt plaster castings, with a picture of many figures in
each corner, with a splendid fresco in the centre,--a style so costly
that there are not two in the Louvre, and that the extravagance of
Louis XIV. shrunk from such expense at Versailles. On all sides
marble, wood, and silk had served as materials for exquisite
Emilio pushed open a carved oak door, made his way down the long,
vaulted passage which runs from end to end on each floor of a Venetian
palazzo, and stopped before another door, so familiar that it made his
heart beat. On seeing him, a lady companion came out of a vast
drawing-room, and admitted him to a study where he found the Duchess
on her knees in front of a Madonna.
He had come to confess and ask forgiveness. Massimilla, in prayer, had
converted him. He and God; nothing else dwelt in that heart.
The Duchess rose very unaffectedly, and held out her hand. Her lover
did not take it.
"Did not Gianbattista see you, yesterday?" she asked.
"No," he replied.
"That piece of ill-luck gave me a night of misery. I was so afraid
lest you might meet the Duke, whose perversity I know too well. What
made Vendramin let your palace to him?"
"It was a good idea, Milla, for your Prince is poor enough."
Massimilla was so beautiful in her trust of him, and so wonderfully
lovely, so happy in Emilio's presence, that at this moment the Prince,
wide awake, experienced the sensations of the horrible dream that
torments persons of a lively imagination, in which after arriving in a
ballroom full of women in full dress, the dreamer is suddenly aware
that he is naked, without even a shirt; shame and terror possess him
by turns, and only waking can relieve him from his misery. Thus stood
Emilio's soul in the presence of his mistress. Hitherto that soul had
known only the fairest flowers of feeling; a debauch had plunged it
into dishonor. This none knew but he, for the beautiful Florentine
ascribed so many virtues to her lover that the man she adored could
not but be incapable of any stain.
As Emilio had not taken her hand, the Duchess pushed her fingers
through his hair that the singer had kissed. Then she perceived that
Emilio's hand was clammy and his brow moist.
"What ails you?" she asked, in a voice to which tenderness gave the
sweetness of a flute.
"Never till this moment have I known how much I love you," he replied.
"Well, dear idol, what would you have?" said she.
"What have I done to make her ask that?" he wondered to himself.
"Emilio, what letter was that which you threw into the lagoon?"
"Vendramini's. I had not read it to the end, or I should never have
gone to my palazzo, and there have met the Duke; for no doubt it told
me all about it."
Massimilla turned pale, but a caress from Emilio reassured her.
"Stay with me all day; we will go to the opera together. We will not
set out for Friuli; your presence will no doubt enable me to endure
Cataneo's," said Massimilla.
Though this would be torment to her lover's soul, he consented with
If anything can give us a foretaste of what the damned will suffer on
finding themselves so unworthy of God, is it not the state of a young
man, as yet unpolluted, in the presence of a mistress he reveres,
while he still feels on his lips the taste of infidelity, and brings
into the sanctuary of the divinity he worships the tainted atmosphere
of the courtesan?
Baader, who in his lectures eliminated things divine by erotic
imagery, had no doubt observed, like some Catholic writers, the
intimate resemblance between human and heavenly love.
This distress of mind cast a hue of melancholy over the pleasure the
young Venetian felt in his mistress' presence. A woman's instinct has
amazing aptitude for harmony of feeling; it assumes the hue, it
vibrates to the note suggested by her lover. The pungent flavor of
coquettish spice is far indeed from spurring affection so much as this
gentle sympathy of tenderness. The smartness of a coquette too clearly
marks opposition; however transient it is displeasing; but this
intimate comprehension shows a perfect fusion of souls. The hapless
Emilio was touched by the unspoken divination which led the Duchess to
pity a fault unknown to her.
Massimilla, feeling that her strength lay in the absence of any
sensual side to her love, could allow herself to be expansive; she
boldly and confidently poured out her angelic spirit, she stripped it
bare, just as during that diabolical night, La Tinti had displayed the
soft lines of her body, and her firm, elastic flesh. In Emilio's eyes
there was as it were a conflict between the saintly love of this white
soul and that of the vehement and muscular Sicilian.
The day was spent in long looks following on deep meditations. Each of
them gauged the depths of tender feeling, and found it bottomless; a
conviction that brought fond words to their lips. Modesty, the goddess
who in a moment of forgetfulness with Love, was the mother of
Coquettishness, need not have put her hand before her face as she
looked at these lovers. As a crowning joy, an orgy of happiness,
Massimilla pillowed Emilio's head in her arms, and now and then
ventured to press her lips to his; but only as a bird dips its beak
into the clear waters of a spring, looking round lest it should be
seen. Their fancy worked upon this kiss, as a composer develops a
subject by the endless resources of music, and it produced in them
such tumultuous and vibrating echoes as fevered their blood.
The Idea must always be stronger than the Fact, otherwise desire would
be less perfect than satisfaction, and it is in fact the stronger,--it
gives birth to wit. And, indeed, they were perfectly happy; for
enjoyment must always take something off happiness. Married in heaven
alone, these two lovers admired each other in their purest aspect,--
that of two souls incandescent, and united in celestial light, radiant
to the eyes that faith has touched; and, above all, filled with the
rapture which the brush of a Raphael, a Titian, a Murillo, has
depicted, and which those who have ever known it, taste again as they
gaze at those paintings. Do not such peerless spirits scorn the
coarser joys lavished by the Sicilian singer--the material expression
of that angelic union?
These noble thoughts were in the Prince's mind as he reposed in
heavenly calm on Massimilla's cool, soft, white bosom, under the
gentle radiance of her eyes veiled by long, bright lashes; and he gave
himself up to this dream of an ideal orgy. At such a moment,
Massimilla was as one of the Virgin visions seen in dreams, which
vanish at cock-crow, but whom we recognize when we find them again in
their realm of glory,--in the works of some great painters of Heaven.
In the evening the lovers went to the theatre. This is the way of
Italian life: love in the morning; music in the evening; the night for
sleep. How far preferable is this existence to that of a country where
every one expends his lungs and strength in politics, without
contributing any more, single-minded, to the progress of affairs than
a grain of sand can make a cloud of dust. Liberty, in those strange
lands, consists in the right to squabble over public concerns, to take
care of oneself, to waste time in patriotic undertakings each more
futile than the last, inasmuch as they all weaken that noble, holy
self-concern which is the parent of all great human achievement. At
Venice, on the contrary, love and its myriad ties, the sweet business
of real happiness, fills up all the time.
In that country, love is so much a matter of course that the Duchess
was regarded as a wonder; for, in spite of her violent attachment to
Emilio, everybody was confident of her immaculate purity. And women
gave their sincere pity to the poor young man, who was regarded as a
victim to the virtue of his lady-love. At the same time, no one cared
to blame the Duchess, for in Italy religion is a power as much
respected as love.
Evening after evening Massimilla's box was the first object of every
opera-glass, and each woman would say to her lover, as she studied the
Duchess and her adorer:
"How far have they got?"
The lover would examine Emilio, seeking some evidence of success;
would find no expression but that of a pure and dejected passion. And
throughout the house, as they visited from box to box, the men would
say to the ladies:
"La Cataneo is not yet Emilio's."
"She is unwise," said the old women. "She will tire him out."
"/Forse!/" (Perhaps) the young wives would reply, with the solemn
accent that Italians can infuse into that great word--the answer to
many questions here below.
Some women were indignant, thought the whole thing ill-judged, and
declared that it was a misapprehension of religion to allow it to
"My dear, love that poor Emilio," said the Signora Vulpato to
Massimilla, as they met on the stairs in going out.
"I do love him with all my might," replied the Duchess.
"Then why does not he look happy?"
Massimilla's reply was a little shrug of her shoulders.
We in France--France as the growing mania for English proprieties has
made it--can form no idea of the serious interest taken in this affair
by Venetian society.
Vendramini alone knew Emilio's secret, which was carefully kept
between two men who had, for private pleasure, combined their coats of
arms with the motto /Non amici, frates/.
The opening night of the opera season is an event at Venice, as in
every capital in Italy. The /Fenice/ was crowded.
The five hours of the night that are spent at the theatre fill so
important a place in Italian life that it is well to give an account
of the customs that have risen from this manner of spending time.
The boxes in Italy are unlike those of any other country, inasmuch as
that elsewhere the women go to be seen, and that Italian ladies do not
care to make a show of themselves. Each box is long and narrow,
sloping at an angle to the front and to the passage behind. On each
side is a sofa, and at the end stand two armchairs, one for the
mistress of the box, and the other for a lady friend when she brings
one, which she rarely does. Each lady is in fact too much engaged in
her own box to call on others, or to wish to see them; also no one
cares to introduce a rival. An Italian woman almost always reigns
alone in her box; the mothers are not the slaves of their daughters,
the daughters have no mother on their hands; thus there are no
children, no relations to watch and censure and bore, or cut into a
In front every box is draped in the same way, with the same silk: from
the cornice hang curtains, also all to match; and these remain drawn
when the family to whom the box belongs is in mourning. With very few
exceptions, and those only at Milan, there is no light inside the box;
they are illuminated only from the stage, and from a not very
brilliant hanging lustre which, in spite of protests, has been
introduced into the house in some towns; still, screened by the
curtains, they are never very light, and their arrangement leaves the
back of the box so dark that it is very difficult to see what is going
The boxes, large enough to accommodate eight or ten persons, are
decorated with handsome silks, the ceilings are painted and ornamented
in light and pleasing colors; the woodwork is gilt. Ices and sorbets
are served there, and sweetmeats; for only the plebeian classes ever
have a serious meal. Each box is freehold property, and of
considerable value; some are estimated at as much as thirty thousand
lire; the Litta family at Milan own three adjoining. These facts
sufficiently indicate the importance attributed to this incident of
Conversation reigns supreme in this little apartment, which Stendhal,
one of the most ingenious of modern writers, and a keen student of
Italian manners, has called a boudoir with a window opening on to a
pit. The music and the spectacle are in fact purely accessory; the
real interest of the evening is in the social meeting there, the all-
important trivialities of love that are discussed, the assignations
held, the anecdotes and gossip that creep in. The theatre is an
inexpensive meeting-place for a whole society which is content and
amused with studying itself.
The men who are admitted take their seats on one of the sofas, in the
order of their arrival. The first comer naturally is next to the
mistress of the box, but when both seats are full, if another visitor
comes in, the one who has sat longest rises, takes his leave and
departs. All move up one place, and so each in turn is next the
This futile gossip, or serious colloquy, these elegant trivialities of
Italian life, inevitably imply some general intimacy. The lady may be
in full dress or not, as she pleases. She is so completely at home
that a stranger who has been received in her box may call on her next
day at her residence. The foreign visitor cannot at first understand
this life of idle wit, this /dolce far niente/ on a background of
music. Only long custom and keen observation can ever reveal to a
foreigner the meaning of Italian life, which is like the free sky of
the south, and where a rich man will not endure a cloud. A man of rank
cares little about the management of his fortune; he leaves the
details to his stewards (ragionati), who rob and ruin him. He has no
instinct for politics, and they would presently bore him; he lives
exclusively for passion, which fills up all his time; hence the
necessity felt by the lady and her lover for being constantly
together; for the great feature of such a life is the lover, who for
five hours is kept under the eye of a woman who has had him at her
feet all day. Thus Italian habits allow of perpetual satisfaction, and
necessitate a constant study of the means fitted to insure it, though
hidden under apparent light-heartedness.
It is a beautiful life, but a reckless one, and in no country in the
world are men so often found worn out.
The Duchess' box was on the pit tier--/pepiano/, as it is called in
Venice; she always sat where the light from the stage fell on her
face, so that her handsome head, softly illuminated, stood out against
the dark background. The Florentine attracted every gaze by her broad,
high brow, as white as snow, crowned with plaits of black hair that
gave her a really royal look; by the refinement of her features,
resembling the noble features of Andrea del Sarto's heads; by the
outline of her face, the setting of her eyes; and by those velvet eyes
themselves, which spoke of the rapture of a woman dreaming of
happiness, still pure though loving, at once attractive and dignified.
Instead of /Mose/, in which la Tinti was to have appeared with
Genovese, /Il Barbiere/ was given, and the tenor was to sing without
the celebrated prima donna. The manager announced that he had been
obliged to change the opera in consequence of la Tinti's being ill;
and the Duke was not to be seen in the theatre.
Was this a clever trick on the part of the management, to secure two
full houses by bringing out Genovese and Tinti separately, or was
Clarina's indisposition genuine? While this was open to discussion by
others, Emilio might be better informed; and though the announcement
caused him some remorse, as he remembered the singer's beauty and
vehemence, her absence and the Duke's put both the Prince and the
Duchess very much at their ease.
And Genovese sang in such a way as to drive out all memories of a
night of illicit love, and to prolong the heavenly joys of this
blissful day. Happy to be alone to receive the applause of the house,
the tenor did his best with the powers which have since achieved
European fame. Genovese, then but three-and-twenty, born at Bergamo, a
pupil of Veluti's and devoted to his art, a fine man, good-looking,
clever in apprehending the spirit of a part, was already developing
into the great artist destined to win fame and fortune. He had a wild
success,--a phrase which is literally exact only in Italy, where the
applause of the house is absolutely frenzied when a singer procures it
Some of the Prince's friends came to congratulate him on coming into
his title, and to discuss the news. Only last evening la Tinti, taken
by the Duke to the Vulpatos', had sung there, apparently in health as
sound as her voice was fine; hence her sudden disposition gave rise to
much comment. It was rumored at the Cafe Florian that Genovese was
desperately in love with Clarina; that she was only anxious to avoid
his declarations, and that the manager had tried in vain to induce her
to appear with him. The Austrian General, on the other hand, asserted
that it was the Duke who was ill, that the prima donna was nursing
him, and that Genovese had been commanded to make amends to the
The Duchess owed this visit from the Austrian General to the fact that
a French physician had come to Venice whom the General wished to
introduce to her. The Prince, seeing Vendramin wandering about the
/parterre/, went out for a few minutes of confidential talk with his
friend, whom he had not seen for three months; and as they walked
round the gangway which divides the seats in the pit from the lowest
tier of boxes, he had an opportunity of observing Massimilla's
reception of the foreigner.
"Who is that Frenchman?" asked the Prince.
"A physician sent for by Cataneo, who wants to know how long he is
likely to live," said Vendramin. "The Frenchman is waiting for
Malfatti, with whom he is to hold a consultation."
Like every Italian woman who is in love, the Duchess kept her eyes
fixed on Emilio; for in that land a woman is so wholly wrapped up in
her lover that it is difficult to detect an expressive glance directed
at anybody else.
"Caro," said the Prince to his friend, "remember I slept at your house
"Have you triumphed?" said Vendramin, putting his arm round Emilio's
"No; but I hope I may some day be happy with Massimilla."
"Well," replied Marco, "then you will be the most envied man on earth.
The Duchess is the most perfect woman in Italy. To me, seeing things
as I do through the dazzling medium of opium, she seems the very
highest expression of art; for nature, without knowing it, has made
her a Raphael picture. Your passion gives no umbrage to Cataneo, who
has handed over to me a thousand crowns, which I am to give to you."
"Well," added Emilio, "whatever you may hear said, I sleep every night
at your house. Come, for every minute spent away from her, when I
might be with her, is torment."
Emilio took his seat at the back of the box and remained there in
silence, listening to the Duchess, enchanted by her wit and beauty. It
was for him, and not out of vanity, that Massimilla lavished the
charms of her conversation bright with Italian wit, in which sarcasm
lashed things but not persons, laughter attacked nothing that was not
laughable, mere trifles were seasoned with Attic salt.
Anywhere else she might have been tiresome. The Italians, an eminently
intelligent race, have no fancy for displaying their talents where
they are not in demand; their chat is perfectly simple and effortless,
it never makes play, as in France, under the lead of a fencing master,
each one flourishing his foil, or, if he has nothing to say, sitting
Conversation sparkles with a delicate and subtle satire that plays
gracefully with familiar facts; and instead of a compromising epigram
an Italian has a glance or a smile of unutterable meaning. They think
--and they are right--that to be expected to understand ideas when
they only seek enjoyment, is a bore.
Indeed, la Vulpato had said to Massimilla:
"If you loved him you would not talk so well."
Emilio took no part in the conversation; he listened and gazed. This
reserve might have led foreigners to suppose that the Prince was a man
of no intelligence,--their impression very commonly of an Italian in
love,--whereas he was simply a lover up to his ears in rapture.
Vendramin sat down by Emilio, opposite the Frenchman, who, as the
stranger, occupied the corner facing the Duchess.
"Is that gentleman drunk?" said the physician in an undertone to
Massimilla, after looking at Vendramin.
"Yes," replied she, simply.
In that land of passion, each passion bears its excuse in itself, and
gracious indulgence is shown to every form of error. The Duchess
sighed deeply, and an expression of suppressed pain passed over her
"You will see strange things in our country, monsieur," she went on.
"Vendramin lives on opium, as this one lives on love, and that one
buries himself in learning; most young men have a passion for a
dancer, as older men are miserly. We all create some happiness or some
madness for ourselves."
"Because you all want to divert your minds from some fixed idea, for
which a revolution would be a radical cure," replied the physician.
"The Genoese regrets his republic, the Milanese pines for his
independence, the Piemontese longs for a constitutional government,
the Romagna cries for liberty--"
"Of which it knows nothing," interrupted the Duchess. "Alas! there are
men in Italy so stupid as to long for your idiotic Charter, which
destroys the influence of woman. Most of my fellow-countrywomen must
need read your French books--useless rhodomontade--"
"Useless!" cried the Frenchman.
"Why, monsieur," the Duchess went on, "what can you find in a book
that is better than what we have in our hearts? Italy is mad."
"I cannot see that a people is mad because it wishes to be its own
master," said the physician.
"Good Heavens!" exclaimed the Duchess, eagerly, "does not that mean
paying with a great deal of bloodshed for the right of quarreling, as
you do, over crazy ideas?"
"Then you approve of despotism?" said the physician.
"Why should I not approve of a system of government which, by
depriving us of books and odious politics, leaves men entirely to us?"
"I had thought that the Italians were more patriotic," said the
Massimilla laughed so slyly that her interlocutor could not
distinguish mockery from serious meaning, nor her real opinion from
"Then you are not a liberal?" said he.
"Heaven preserve me!" said she. "I can imagine nothing in worse taste
than such opinions in a woman. Could you love a woman whose heart was
occupied by all mankind?"
"Those who love are naturally aristocrats," the Austrian General
observed, with a smile.
"As I came into the theatre," the Frenchman observed, "you were the
first person I saw; and I remarked to his Excellency that if there was
a woman who could personify a nation it was you. But I grieve to
discover that, though you represent its divine beauty, you have not
the constitutional spirit."
"Are you not bound," said the Duchess, pointing to the ballet now
being danced, "to find all our dancers detestable and our singers
atrocious? Paris and London rob us of all our leading stars. Paris
passes judgment on them, and London pays them. Genovese and la Tinti
will not be left to us for six months--"
At this juncture, the Austrian left the box. Vendramin, the Prince,
and the other two Italians exchanged a look and a smile, glancing at
the French physician. He, for a moment, felt doubtful of himself,--a
rare thing in a Frenchman,--fancying he had said or done something
incongruous; but the riddle was immediately solved.
"Do you thing it would be judicious," said Emilio, "if we spoke our
mind in the presence of our masters?"
"You are in a land of slaves," said the Duchess, in a tone and with a
droop of the head which gave her at once the look for which the
physician had sought in vain. "Vendramin," she went on, speaking so
that only the stranger could hear her, "took to smoking opium, a
villainous idea suggested to him by an Englishman who, for other
reasons of his, craved an easy death--not death as men see it in the
form of a skeleton, but death draped with the frippery you in France
call a flag--a maiden form crowned with flowers or laurels; she
appears in a cloud of gunpowder borne on the flight of a cannon-ball--
or else stretched on a bed between two courtesans; or again, she rises
in the steam of a bowl of punch, or the dazzling vapor of a diamond--
but a diamond in the form of carbon.
"Whenever Vendramin chooses, for three Austrian lire, he can be a
Venetian Captain, he can sail in the galleys of the Republic, and
conquer the gilded domes of Constantinople. Then he can lounge on the
divans in the Seraglio among the Sultan's wives, while the Grand
Signor himself is the slave of the Venetian conqueror. He returns to
restore his palazzo with the spoils of the Ottoman Empire. He can quit
the women of the East for the doubly masked intrigues of his beloved
Venetians, and fancy that he dreads the jealousy which has ceased to
"For three zwanziger he can transport himself into the Council of Ten,
can wield there terrible power, and leave the Doges' Palace to sleep
under the watch of a pair of flashing eyes, or to climb a balcony from
which a fair hand has hung a silken ladder. He can love a woman to
whom opium lends such poetic grace as we women of flesh and blood
could never show.
"Presently he turns over, and he is face to face with the dreadful
frown of the senator, who holds a dagger. He hears the blade plunged
into his mistress' heart. She dies smiling on him; for she has saved
"And she is a happy woman!" added the Duchess, looking at Emilio.
"He escapes and flies to command the Dalmatians, to conquer the
Illyrian coast for his beloved Venice. His glory wins him forgiveness,
and he enjoys a life of domestic happiness,--a home, a winter evening,
a young wife and charming children, who pray to San Marco under the
care of an old nurse. Yes, for three francs' worth of opium he
furnishes our empty arsenal, he watches convoys of merchandise coming
in, going to the four quarters of the world. The forces of modern
industry no longer reign in London, but in his own Venice, where the
hanging gardens of Semiramis, the Temple of Jerusalem, the marvels of
Rome, live once more. He adds to the glories of the middle ages by the
labors of steam, by new masterpieces of art under the protection of
Venice, who protected it of old. Monuments and nations crowd into his
little brain; there is room for them all. Empires and cities and
revolutions come and vanish in the course of a few hours, while Venice
alone expands and lives; for the Venice of his dreams is the empress
of the seas. She has two millions of inhabitants, the sceptre of
Italy, the mastery of the Mediterranean and the Indies!"
"What an opera is the brain of man! What an unfathomed abyss!--even to
those who, like Gall, have mapped it out," cried the physician.
"Dear Duchess," said Vendramin, "do not omit the last service that my
elixir will do me. After hearing ravishing voices and imbibing music
through every pore, after experiencing the keenest pleasures and the
fiercest delights of Mahomet's paradise, I see none but the most
terrible images. I have visions of my beloved Venice full of
children's faces, distorted, like those of the dying; of women covered
with dreadful wounds, torn and wailing; of men mangled and crushed by
the copper sides of crashing vessels. I begin to see Venice as she is,
shrouded in crape, stripped, robbed, destitute. Pale phantoms wander
through her streets!
"Already the Austrian soldiers are grinning over me, already my
visionary life is drifting into real life; whereas six months ago real
life was the bad dream, and the life of opium held love and bliss,
important affairs and political interests. Alas! To my grief, I see
the dawn over my tomb, where truth and falsehood mingle in a dubious
light, which is neither day nor darkness, but partakes of both."
"So you see that in this head there is too much patriotism," said the
Prince, laying his hand on the thick black curls that fell on
"Oh, if he loves us he will give up his dreadful opium!" said
"I will cure your friend," said the Frenchman.
"Achieve that, and we shall love you," said the Duchess. "But if on
your return to France you do not calumniate us, we shall love you even
better. The hapless Italians are too much crushed by foreign dominion
to be fairly judged--for we have known yours," she added, with a
"It was more generous than Austria's," said the physician, eagerly.
"Austria squeezes and gives us nothing back, and you squeeze to
enlarge and beautify our towns; you stimulated us by giving us an
army. You thought you could keep Italy, and they expect to lose it--
there lies the difference.
"The Austrians provide us with a sort of ease that is as stultifying
and heavy as themselves, while you overwhelmed us by your devouring
energy. But whether we die of tonics or of narcotics, what does it
matter? It is death all the same, Monsieur le docteur."
"Unhappy Italy! In my eyes she is like a beautiful woman whom France
ought to protect by making her his mistress," exclaimed the Frenchman.
"But you could not love us as we wish to be loved," said the Duchess,
smiling. "We want to be free. But the liberty I crave is not your
ignoble and middle-class liberalism, which would kill all art. I ask,"
said she, in a tone that thrilled through the box,--"that is to say, I
would ask,--that each Italian republic should be resuscitated, with
its nobles, its citizens, its special privileges for each caste. I
would have the old aristocratic republics once more with their
intestine warfare and rivalry that gave birth to the noblest works of
art, that created politics, that raised up the great princely houses.
By extending the action of one government over a vast expanse of
country it is frittered down. The Italian republics were the glory of
Europe in the middle ages. Why has Italy succumbed when the Swiss, who
were her porters, have triumphed?"
"The Swiss republics," said the doctor, "were worthy housewives, busy
with their own little concerns, and neither having any cause for
envying another. Your republics were haughty queens, preferring to
sell themselves rather than bow to a neighbor; they fell too low ever
to rise again. The Guelphs are triumphant."
"Do not pity us too much," said the Duchess, in a voice that made the
two friends start. "We are still supreme. Even in the depths of her
misfortune Italy governs through the choicer spirits that abound in
"Unfortunately the greater number of her geniuses learn to understand
life so quickly that they lie sunk in poverty-stricken pleasure. As
for those who are willing to play the melancholy game for immortality,
they know how to get at your gold and to secure your praises. Ay, in
this land--pitied for its fallen state by traveled simpletons and
hypocritical poets, while its character is traduced by politicians--in
this land, which appears so languid, powerless, and ruinous, worn out
rather than old, there are puissant brains in every branch of life,
genius throwing out vigorous shoots as an old vine-stock throws out
canes productive of delicious fruit. This race of ancient rulers still
gives birth to kings--Lagrange, Volta, Rasori, Canova, Rossini,
Bartolini, Galvani, Vigano, Beccaria, Cicognara, Corvetto. These
Italians are masters of the scientific peaks on which they stand, or
of the arts to which they devote themselves. To say nothing of the
singers and executants who captivate Europe by their amazing
perfections: Taglioni, Paganini, and the rest. Italy still rules the
world which will always come to worship her.
"Go to Florian's to-night; you will find in Capraja one of our
cleverest men, but in love with obscurity. No one but the Duke, my
master, understands music so thoroughly as he does; indeed he is known
here as /il Fanatico/."
After sitting a few minutes listening to the eager war of words
between the physician and the Duchess, who showed much ingenious
eloquence, the Italians, one by one, took leave, and went off to tell
the news in every box, that la Cataneo, who was regarded as a woman of
great wit and spirit, had, on the question of Italy, defeated a famous
French doctor. This was the talk of the evening.
As soon as the Frenchman found himself alone with the Duchess and the
Prince, he understood that they were to be left together, and took
leave. Massimilla bowed with a bend of the neck that placed him at
such a distance that this salute might have secured her the man's
hatred, if he could have ignored the charm of her eloquence and
Thus at the end of the opera, Emilio and Massimilla were alone, and
holding hands they listened together to the duet that finishes /Il
"There is nothing but music to express love," said the Duchess, moved
by that song as of two rapturous nightingales.
A tear twinkled in Emilio's eye; Massimilla, sublime in such beauty as
beams in Raphael's Saint-Cecilia, pressed his hand, their knees
touched, there was, as it seemed, the blossom of a kiss on her lips.
The Prince saw on her blushing face a glow of joy like that which on a
summer's day shines down on the golden harvest; his heart seemed
bursting with the tide of blood that rushed to it. He fancied that he
could hear an angelic chorus of voices, and he would have given his
life to feel the fire of passion which at this hour last night had
filled him for the odious Clarina; but he was at the moment hardly
conscious of having a body.
Massimilla, much distressed, ascribed this tear, in her guilelessness,
to the remark she had made as to Genovese's cavatina.
"But, /carino/," said she in Emilio's ear, "are not you as far better
than every expression of love, as cause is superior to effect?"
After handing the Duchess to her gondola, Emilio waited for Vendramin
to go to Florian's.
The Cafe Florian at Venice is a quite undefinable institution.
Merchants transact their business there, and lawyers meet to talk over
their most difficult cases. Florian's is at once an Exchange, a green-
room, a newspaper office, a club, a confessional,--and it is so well
adapted to the needs of the place that some Venetian women never know
what their husband's business may be, for, if they have a letter to
write, they go to write it there.
Spies, of course, abound at Florian's; but their presence only
sharpens Venetian wits, which may here exercise the discretion once so
famous. A great many persons spend the whole day at Florian's; in
fact, to some men Florian's is so much a matter of necessity, that
between the acts of an opera they leave the ladies in their boxes and
take a turn to hear what is going on there.
While the two friends were walking in the narrow streets of the
Merceria they did not speak, for there were too many people; but as
they turned into the Piazzi di San Marco, the Prince said:
"Do not go at once to the cafe. Let us walk about; I want to talk to
He related his adventure with Clarina and explained his position. To
Vendramin Emilio's despair seemed so nearly allied to madness that he
promised to cure him completely if only he would give him /carte
blanche/ to deal with Massimilla. This ray of hope came just in time
to save Emilio from drowning himself that night; for, indeed, as he
remembered the singer, he felt a horrible wish to go back to her.
The two friends then went to an inner room at Florian's, where they
listened to the conversation of some of the superior men of the town,
who discoursed the subjects of the day. The most interesting of these
were, in the first place, the eccentricities of Lord Byron, of whom
the Venetians made great sport; then Cataneo's attachment for la
Tinti, for which no reason could be assigned after twenty different
causes had been suggested; then Genovese's debut; finally, the tilting
match between the Duchess and the French doctor. Just as the
discussion became vehemently musical, Duke Cataneo made his
appearance. He bowed very courteously to Emilio, which seemed so
natural that no one noticed it, and Emilio bowed gravely in return.
Cataneo looked round to see if there was anybody he knew, recognized
Vendramin and greeted him, bowed to his banker, a rich patrician, and
finally to the man who happened to be speaking,--a celebrated musical
fanatic, a friend of the Comtesse Albrizzi. Like some others who
frequented Florian's, his mode of life was absolutely unknown, so
carefully did he conceal it. Nothing was known about him but what he
chose to tell.
This was Capraja, the nobleman whom the Duchess had mentioned to the
French doctor. This Venetian was one of a class of dreamers whose
powerful minds divine everything. He was an eccentric theorist, and
cared no more for celebrity than for a broken pipe.
His life was in accordance with his ideas. Capraja made his appearance
at about ten every morning under the /Procuratie/, without anyone
knowing whence he came. He lounged about Venice, smoking cigars. He
regularly went to the Fenice, sitting in the pit-stalls, and between
the acts went round to Florian's, where he took three or four cups of
coffee a day; and he ended the evening at the cafe, never leaving it
till about two in the morning. Twelve hundred francs a year paid all
his expenses; he ate but one meal a day at an eating-house in the
Merceria, where the cook had his dinner ready for him at a fixed hour,
on a little table at the back of the shop; the pastry-cook's daughter
herself prepared his stuffed oysters, provided him with cigars, and
took care of his money. By his advice, this girl, though she was very
handsome, would never countenance a lover, lived very steadily, and
still wore the old Venetian costume. This purely-bred Venetian girl
was twelve years old when Capraja first took an interest in her, and
six-and-twenty when he died. She was very fond of him, though he had
never even kissed her hand or her brow, and she knew nothing whatever
of the poor old nobleman's intentions with regard to her. The girl had
at last as complete control of the old gentleman as a mother has of
her child; she would tell him when he wanted clean linen; next day he
would come without a shirt, and she would give him a clean one to put
on in the morning.
He never looked at a woman either in the theatre or out walking.
Though he was the descendant of an old patrician family he never
thought his rank worth mentioning. But at night, after twelve, he
awoke from his apathy, talked, and showed that he had seen and heard
everything. This peaceful Diogenes, quite incapable of explaining his
tenets, half a Turk, half a Venetian, was thick-set, short, and fat;
he had a Doge's sharp nose, an inquisitive, satirical eye, and a
discreet though smiling mouth.
When he died, it became known that he had lived in a little den near
San Benedetto. He had two million francs invested in the funds of
various countries of Europe, and had left the interest untouched ever
since he had first bought the securities in 1814, so the sum was now
enormous, alike from the increased value of the capital and the
accumulated interest. All this money was left to the pastry-cook's
"Genovese," he was saying, "will do wonders. Whether he really
understands the great end of music, or acts only on instinct, I know
not; but he is the first singer who ever satisfied me. I shall not die
without hearing a /cadenza/ executed as I have heard them in my
dreams, waking with a feeling as though the sounds were floating in
the air. The clear /cadenza/ is the highest achievement of art; it is
the arabesque, decorating the finest room in the house; a shade too
little and it is nothing, a touch too much and all is confusion. Its
task is to awake in the soul a thousand dormant ideas; it flies up and
sweeps through space, scattering seeds in the air to be taken in by
our ears and blossom in our heart. Believe me, in painting his Saint-
Cecilia, Raphael gave the preference to music over poetry. And he was
right; music appeals to the heart, whereas writing is addressed to the
intellect; it communicates ideas directly, like a perfume. The
singer's voice impinges not on the mind, not on the memory of
happiness, but on the first principle of thought; it stirs the
elements of sensation.
"It is a grievous thing that the populace should have compelled
musicians to adapt their expression to words, to factitious emotions;
but then they were not otherwise intelligible to the vulgar. Thus the
/cadenza/ is the only thing left to the lovers of pure music, the
devotees of unfettered art. To-night, as I listened to that last
/cavatina/, I felt as if I were beckoned by a fair creature whose look
alone had made me young again. The enchantress placed a crown on my
brow, and led me to the ivory door through which we pass to the
mysterious land of day-dreams. I owe it to Genovese that I escaped for
a few minutes from this old husk--minutes, short no doubt by the
clock, but very long by the record of sensation. For a brief spring-
time, scented with roses, I was young again--and beloved!"
"But you are mistaken, /caro/ Capraja," said the Duke. "There is in
music an effect yet more magical than that of the /cadenza/."
"What is that?" asked Capraja.
"The unison of two voices, or of a voice and a violin,--the instrument
which has tones most nearly resembling those of the human voice,"
replied Cataneo. "This perfect concord bears us on to the very heart
of life, on the tide of elements which can resuscitate rapture and
carry man up to the centre of the luminous sphere where his mind can
command the whole universe. You still need a /thema/, Capraja, but the
pure element is enough for me. You need that the current should flow
through the myriad canals of the machine to fall in dazzling cascades,
while I am content with the pure tranquil pool. My eye gazes across a
lake without a ripple. I can embrace the infinite."
"Speak no more, Cataneo," said Capraja, haughtily. "What! Do you fail
to see the fairy, who, in her swift rush through the sparkling
atmosphere, collects and binds with the golden thread of harmony, the
gems of melody she smilingly sheds on us? Have you ever felt the touch
of her wand, as she says to Curiosity, 'Awake!' The divinity rises up
radiant from the depths of the brain; she flies to her store of
wonders and fingers them lightly as an organist touches the keys.
Suddenly, up starts Memory, bringing us the roses of the past,
divinely preserved and still fresh. The mistress of our youth revives,
and strokes the young man's hair. Our heart, too full, overflows; we
see the flowery banks of the torrent of love. Every burning bush we
ever knew blazes afresh, and repeats the heavenly words we once heard
and understood. The voice rolls on; it embraces in its rapid turns
those fugitive horizons, and they shrink away; they vanish, eclipsed
by newer and deeper joys--those of an unrevealed future, to which the
fairy points as she returns to the blue heaven."
"And you," retorted Cataneo, "have you never seen the direct ray of a
star opening the vistas above; have you never mounted on that beam
which guides you to the sky, to the heart of the first causes which
move the worlds?"
To their hearers, the Duke and Capraja were playing a game of which
the premises were unknown.
"Genovese's voice thrills through every fibre," said Capraja.
"And la Tinti's fires the blood," replied the Duke.
"What a paraphrase of happy love is that /cavatina/!" Capraja went on.
"Ah! Rossini was young when he wrote that interpretation of
effervescent ecstasy. My heart filled with renewed blood, a thousand
cravings tingled in my veins. Never have sounds more angelic delivered
me more completely from my earthly bonds! Never did the fairy wave
more beautiful arms, smile more invitingly, lift her tunic more
cunningly to display an ankle, raising the curtain that hides my other
"To-morrow, my old friend," replied Cataneo, "you shall ride on the
back of a dazzling, white swan, who will show you the loveliest land
there is; you shall see the spring-time as children see it. Your heart
shall open to the radiance of a new sun; you shall sleep on crimson
silk, under the gaze of a Madonna; you shall feel like a happy lover
gently kissed by a nymph whose bare feet you still may see, but who is
about to vanish. That swan will be the voice of Genovese, if he can
unite it to its Leda, the voice of Clarina. To-morrow night we are to
hear /Mose/, the grandest opera produced by Italy's greatest genius."
All present left the conversation to the Duke and Capraja, not wishing
to be the victims of mystification. Only Vendramin and the French
doctor listened to them for a few minutes. The opium-smoker understood
these poetic flights; he had the key of the palace where those two
sensuous imaginations were wandering. The doctor, too, tried to
understand, and he understood, for he was one of the Pleiades of
genius belonging to the Paris school of medicine, from which a true
physician comes out as much a metaphysician as an accomplished
"Do you understand them?" said Emilio to Vendramin as they left the
cafe at two in the morning.
"Yes, my dear boy," said Vendramin, taking Emilio home with him.
"Those two men are of the legion of unearthly spirits to whom it is
given here below to escape from the wrappings of the flesh, who can
fly on the shoulders of the queen of witchcraft up to the blue
empyrean where the sublime marvels are wrought of the intellectual
life; they, by the power of art, can soar whither your immense love
carries you, whither opium transports me. Then none can understand
them but those who are like them.
"I, who can inspire my soul by such base means, who can pack a hundred
years of life into a single night, I can understand those lofty
spirits when they talk of that glorious land, deemed a realm of
chimeras by some who think themselves wise; but the realm of reality
to us whom they think mad. Well, the Duke and Capraja, who were
acquainted at Naples,--where Cataneo was born,--are mad about music."
"But what is that strange system that Capraja was eager to explain to
the Duke? Did you understand?"
"Yes," replied Vendramin. "Capraja's great friend is a musician from
Cremona, lodging in the Capello palace, who has a theory that sounds
meet with an element in man, analogous to that which produces ideas.
According to him, man has within him keys acted on by sound, and
corresponding to his nerve-centres, where ideas and sensations take
their rise. Capraja, who regards the arts as an assemblage of means by
which he can harmonize, in himself, all external nature with another
mysterious nature that he calls the inner life, shares all ideas of
this instrument-maker, who at this moment is composing an opera.
"Conceive of a sublime creation, wherein the marvels of the visible
universe are reproduced with immeasurable grandeur, lightness,
swiftness, and extension; wherein sensation is infinite, and whither
certain privileged natures, possessed of divine powers, are able to
penetrate, and you will have some notion of the ecstatic joys of which
Cataneo and Capraja were speaking; both poets, each for himself alone.
Only, in matters of the intellect, as soon as a man can rise above the
sphere where plastic art is produced by a process of imitation, and
enter into that transcendental sphere of abstractions where everything
is understood as an elementary principle, and seen in the omnipotence
of results, that man is no longer intelligible to ordinary minds."
"You have thus explained my love for Massimilla," said Emilio. "There
is in me, my friend, a force which awakes under the fire of her look,
at her lightest touch, and wafts me to a world of light where effects
are produced of which I dare not speak. It has seemed to me often that
the delicate tissue of her skin has stamped flowers on mine as her
hand lies on my hand. Her words play on those inner keys in me, of
which you spoke. Desire excites my brain, stirring that invisible
world, instead of exciting my passive flesh; the air seems red and
sparkling, unknown perfumes of indescribable strength relax my sinews,
roses wreathe my temples, and I feel as though my blood were escaping
through opened arteries, so complete is my inanition."
"That is the effect on me of smoking opium," replied Vendramin.
"Then do you wish to die?" cried Emilio, in alarm.
"With Venice!" said Vendramin, waving his hand in the direction of San
Marco. "Can you see a single pinnacle or spire that stands straight?
Do you not perceive that the sea is claiming its prey?"
The Prince bent his head; he dared no more speak to his friend of
To know what a free country means, you must have traveled in a
When they reached the Palazzo Vendramin, they saw a gondola moored at
the water-gate. The Prince put his arm round Vendramin and clasped him
"Good-night to you, my dear fellow!"
"What! a woman? for me, whose only love is Venice?" exclaimed Marco.
At this instant the gondolier, who was leaning against a column,
recognizing the man he was to look out for, murmured in Emilio's ear:
"The Duchess, monseigneur."
Emilio sprang into the gondola, where he was seized in a pair of soft
arms--an embrace of iron--and dragged down on to the cushions, where
he felt the heaving bosom of an ardent woman. And then he was no more
Emilio, but Clarina's lover; for his ideas and feelings were so
bewildering that he yielded as if stupefied by her first kiss.
"Forgive this trick, my beloved," said the Sicilian. "I shall die if
you do not come with me."
And the gondola flew over the secret water.
At half-past seven on the following evening, the spectators were again
in their places in the theatre, excepting that those in the pit always
took their chances of where they might sit. Old Capraja was in
Before the overture the Duke paid a call on the Duchess; he made a
point of standing behind her and leaving the front seat to Emilio next
the Duchess. He made a few trivial remarks, without sarcasm or
bitterness, and with as polite a manner as if he were visiting a
But in spite of his efforts to seem amiable and natural, the Prince
could not control his expression, which was deeply anxious. Bystanders
would have ascribed such a change in his usually placid features to
jealousy. The Duchess no doubt shared Emilio's feelings; she looked
gloomy and was evidently depressed. The Duke, uncomfortable enough
between two sulky people, took advantage of the French doctor's
entrance to slip away.
"Monsieur," said Cataneo to his physician before dropping the curtain
over the entrance to the box, "you will hear to-night a grand musical
poem, not easy of comprehension at a first hearing. But in leaving you
with the Duchess I know that you can have no more competent
interpreter, for she is my pupil."
The doctor, like the Duke, was struck by the expression stamped on the
faces of the lovers, a look of pining despair.
"Then does an Italian opera need a guide to it?" he asked Massimilla,
with a smile.
Recalled by this question to her duties as mistress of the box, the
Duchess tried to chase away the clouds that darkened her brow, and
replied, with eager haste, to open a conversation in which she might
vent her irritation:--
"This is not so much an opera, monsieur," said she, "as an oratorio--a
work which is in fact not unlike a most magnificent edifice, and I
shall with pleasure be your guide. Believe me, it will not be too much
to give all your mind to our great Rossini, for you need to be at once
a poet and a musician to appreciate the whole bearing of such a work.
"You belong to a race whose language and genius are too practical for
it to enter into music without an effort; but France is too
intellectual not to learn to love it and cultivate it, and to succeed
in that as in everything else. Also, it must be acknowledged that
music, as created by Lulli, Rameau, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven,
Cimarosa, Paisiello, and Rossini, and as it will be carried on by the
great geniuses of the future, is a new art, unknown to former
generations; they had indeed no such variety of instruments on which
the flowers of melody now blossom as on some rich soil.
"So novel an art demands study in the public, study of a kind that may
develop the feelings to which music appeals. That sentiment hardly
exists as yet among you--a nation given up to philosophical theories,
to analysis and discussion, and always torn by civil disturbances.
Modern music demands perfect peace; it is the language of loving and
sentimental souls, inclined to lofty emotional aspiration.
"That language, a thousand times fuller than the language of words, is
to speech and ideas what the thought is to its utterance; it arouses
sensations and ideas in their primitive form, in that part of us where
sensations and ideas have their birth, but leaves them as they are in
each of us. That power over our inmost being is one of the grandest
facts in music. All other arts present to the mind a definite
creation; those of music are indefinite--infinite. We are compelled to
accept the ideas of the poet, the painter's picture, the sculptor's
statue; but music each one can interpret at the will of his sorrow or
his gladness, his hope or his despair. While other arts restrict our
mind by fixing it on a predestined object, music frees it to roam over
all nature which it alone has the power of expressing. You shall hear
how I interpret Rossini's /Mose/."
She leaned across to the Frenchman to speak to him, without being
"Moses is the liberator of an enslaved race!" said she. "Remember
that, and you will see with what religious hope the whole house will
listen to the prayer of the rescued Hebrews, with what a thunder of
applause it will respond!"
As the leader raised his bow, Emilio flung himself into a back seat.
The Duchess pointed out the place he had left, for the physician to
take it. But the Frenchman was far more curious to know what had gone
wrong between the lovers than to enter the halls of music built up by
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