Venetian Life
W. D. Howells

Part 5 out of 5

of Fine Arts. They addressed people with the title of Count, and no doubt
gained something by this sort of heraldry, though there are counts in
Venice almost as poor as themselves, and titles are not distinctions. The
Venetian seldom gives to beggars; he says deliberately, "_No go_" (I
have nothing), or "_Quando ritornerò_" (when I return), and never
comes back that way. I noticed that professional hunger and cold took this
sort of denial very patiently, as they did every other; but I confess I
had never the heart to practice it. In my walks to the Public Gardens
there was a venerable old man, with the beard and bearing of a patriarch,
whom I encountered on the last bridge of the Riva, and who there asked
alms of me. When I gave him a soldo, he returned me a blessing which I
would be ashamed to take in the United States for half a dollar; and when
the soldo was in some inaccessible pocket, and I begged him to await my
coming back, he said sweetly,--"Very well, Signor, I will be here." And I
must say, to his credit, that he never broke his promise, nor suffered me,
for shame's sake, to break mine. He was quite a treasure to me in this
respect, and assisted me to form habits of punctuality.

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

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

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

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

_Giovanetta_. Revered sir! (_Patron riverito!_)

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

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

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

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

_Assailant_. Beast!

_Besieged_. Thou!

_A_. Fool!

_B_. Thou!

_A_. Liar!

_B_. Thou!

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

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

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

The embattled commercial transaction is conducted in this wise:

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

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

What, then, is the very most ultimate price?

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

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

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

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

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

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

He takes it.

The shopman says cheerfully, "Servo suo!"

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



_(As it seems Seven Years after.)_

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Most certainly!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a ball-room in the Palazzo Pisani, which some of my readers may
have passed through on their way to the studio of the charming old


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