Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/319

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


the contemplation of the stranger. Her constitution was almost an ideal for European statesmen. Her declared object was "to win the heart and the affection of her people," and this could only be brought about by attention to their interests; in the interests of commerce consuls had been established as early as 1117; in those of finance public funds and government stock had been created in 1171; in those of order the census was introduced about the year 1300; in those of property each holding was numbered and registered; in those of justice the law was codified in 1229. A factory act forbade the employment of children in dangerous trades where mercury was used. The nautical code provided for a load-line on all shipping and insisted on the proper treatment of crews. In most departments of practical government the Republic of Venice preceded all other States of Europe, and offered material for reflexion to their politicians, to whom was presented the phenomenon of a fully-matured and stable constitution, and of a people fused together in one homogeneous whole.

For though the Closing of the Great Council had rendered the governing class a close oligarchy, it had not produced class hatred; Venice showed no trace of the feudal system with its violent divisions of the State into hostile camps; every Venetian was still a Venetian first and foremost, and though excluded from the functions of government was still in all likelihood closely connected with those who exercised them. The palace of the patrician was surrounded by a network of small alleys filled with his people, his clients. The merchant prince in his office was served by a staff of clerks who had their share in the success of his ventures. The arrival of any merchant's galleys was a matter for rejoicing to the whole community and was announced by the great bell of St Mark's. Venice, in short, from the commercial point of view was a great joint-stock company for the exploitation of the East, and the patricians were its directors.

The life of a Venetian noble could be filled to the full if he so desired. Politics, diplomacy, trade, arms were all open to him; and he frequently combined two or more of these professions. At the age of twenty-five he took his seat in the Great Council and became eligible for any of the numerous offices to which that Council elected. He might serve his apprenticeship in the department of trade, of finance, of health; passing thence to the Senate, he might represent his country in Constantinople, Rome, Prague, Paris, Madrid, London. On his return he would be made a Savio and member of the cabinet, or serve his turn of a year on the Council of Ten, ending his days perhaps as a Doge, at least as Procurator of St Mark. And throughout the whole of this official career he was probably directing with the help of his brothers and sons the movement of his private family business, trade, or banking. Nothing is commoner than to find an ambassador petitioning to be recalled, because his family business is suffering through his absence