The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 12/Letters from Italy/Part IV
On my page in the Book of Fate, there was written that on the evening of the 28th of September, by five o'clock, German time, I should see Venice for the first time, as I passed from the Brenta into the lagunes, and that soon afterward I should actually enter and visit this strange island-city, this heaven-like republic. So now. Heaven be praised! Venice is no longer to me a bare and a hollow name, which has so long tormented me,—me, the mental enemy of mere verbal sounds.
As the first of the gondoliers came up to the ship (they come in order to convey more quickly to Venice those passengers who are in a hurry), I recollected an old plaything, of which, perhaps, I had not thought for
Photogravure from the painting by Thomas Moran
Copyright, 1888, by C. Klackner, New York.
I am well lodged at the sign of the Queen of England, not far from the Square of St. Mark, which is, indeed, the chief advantage of the spot. My windows look upon a narrow canal between lofty houses: a bridge of one arch is immediately below me, and directly opposite is a narrow bustling alley. Thus am I lodged; and here I shall remain until I have made up my packet for Germany, and until I am satiated with the sight of the city. I can now really enjoy the solitude for which I have longed so ardently; for nowhere does a man feel more solitary than in a crowd, where, unknown to every one, he must push his way. Perhaps in Venice there is only one person who knows me, and he will not come in contact with me all at once.
Venice, Sept. 28, 1786.
A few words on my journey hither from Padua. The passage on the Brenta, in the public vessel, and in good company, is highly agreeable. The banks are ornamented with gardens and villas; little hamlets come down to the water's edge; and the animated highroad may be seen here and there. As the descent of the river is by means of locks, there is often a little pause, which may be employed in looking about the country, and in tasting the fruits, which are offered in great abundance. You then enter your vessel again, and move on through a world which is itself in motion, and full of life and fertility.
To so many changing forms and images a phenomenon was added, which, although derived from Germany, was quite in its place here,—I mean two pilgrims, the first whom I have seen closely. They have a right to travel gratis in this public conveyance; but, because the rest of the passengers dislike coming in contact with them, they do not sit in the covered part, but in the after-part, beside the steersman. They were stared at as a phenomenon, even at the present day; and as, in former times, many vagabonds had made use of this cloak, they were but lightly esteemed. When I learned that they were Germans, and could speak no language but their own, I joined them, and found that they came from the Paderborn territory. Both of them were men of more than fifty years of age, and of a dark but good-humoured physiognomy. They had first visited the sepulchre of the Three Kings at Cologne, had then travelled through Germany, and were now together on their way back to Rome and Upper Italy, whence one intended to set out for Westphalia, and the other to pay a visit of adoration to St. James of Compostella.
Their dress was the well-known costume of pilgrims; but they looked much better with this tucked-up robe than the pilgrims in long taffeta garments whom we are accustomed to exhibit at our masquerades. The long cape, the round hat, the staff and shell (the latter used as the most innocent drinking-vessel)—all had its signification, and its immediate use; while a tin case held their passports. Most remarkable of all were their small red morocco pocketbooks, in which they kept all the little implements that might be wanted for any simple necessity. They had taken them out on finding that something in their garments wanted mending.
The steersman, highly pleased to find an interpreter, made me ask them several questions; and thus I learned a great deal about their views, and especially about their expedition. They made bitter complaints against their brethren in the faith, and even against the clergy, both secular and monastic. Piety, they said, must be a very scarce commodity, since no one would believe in theirs; but they were treated as vagrants in almost every Catholic country, although they produced the route, which had been clerically prescribed, and the passports given by the bishop. On the other hand, they described, with a great deal of emotion, how well they had been received by Protestants, and made special mention of a country clergyman in Swabia, and still more of his wife, who had prevailed on her somewhat unwilling husband to give them an abundant repast, of which they stood in great need. On taking leave, the good couple had given them a "convention's dollar," which they found very serviceable as soon as they entered the Catholic territory. Upon this, one of them said, with all the elevation of which he was capable, "We include this lady every day in our prayers, and implore God that he will open her eyes, as he has opened her heart toward us, and take her, although late, into the bosom of the Catholic Church. And thus we hope that we shall meet her in paradise hereafter."
As I sat upon the little gangway which led to the desk, I explained as much as was necessary and useful to the steersman, and to some other persons who had crowded from the cabin into this narrow space. The pilgrims received some paltry donations, for the Italians are not fond of giving. Upon this they drew out some little consecrated tickets, on which might be seen the representation of the three sainted kings, with some prayers addressed to them. The worthy men entreated me to distribute these tickets among the little party, and explain how invaluable they were. In this I succeeded perfectly; for, when the two men appeared to be greatly embarrassed as to how they should find the convent devoted to pilgrims in so large a place as Venice, the steersman was touched, and promised, that, when they landed, he would give a boy a trifle to lead them to that distant spot. He added, in confidence, that they would not be very heartily welcomed. "The institution," he said, " was founded to admit I don't know how many pilgrims; but now it has become greatly contracted, and the revenues are otherwise employed."
During this conversation we had gone down the beautiful Brenta, leaving behind us many a noble garden and many a noble palace, and casting a rapid glance at the populous and thriving hamlets which lay along the banks. Several gondolas wound about the ship as soon as we had entered the lagunes. A Lombard, well acquainted with Venice, asked me to accompany him, that we might enter all the quicker, and escape the nuisance of the custom-house. Those who endeavoured to hold us back, he contrived to put off with a little drink-money, and so, in a cheerful sunset, we floated to the place of our destination.
Sept. 29 (Michaelmas Day). Evening.
So much has already been told and printed about Venice, that I shall not be circumstantial in my description, but shall only say how it struck me. Now, in this instance again, that which makes the chief impression upon me is the people,—a great mass, who live an involuntary existence, determined by the changing circumstances of the moment.
It was for no idle fancy that this race fled to these islands; it was no mere whim which impelled those who followed to combine with them; necessity taught them to look for security in a highly disadvantageous situation that afterward became most advantageous, enduing them with talent when the whole northern world was immersed in gloom. Their increase and their wealth were a necessary consequence. New dwellings arose close against dwellings; rocks took the place of sand and marsh; houses sought the sky, being forced, like trees enclosed in a narrow compass, to seek in height what they were denied in breadth. Being niggards of every inch of ground, as having been from the very first compressed into a narrow compass, they allowed no more room for the streets than was just necessary to separate a row of houses from the one opposite, and to afford the citizens a narrow passage. Moreover, water supplied the place of street, square, and promenade. The Venetian was forced to become a new creature; and thus Venice can only be compared with itself. The large canal, winding like a serpent, yields to no street in the world; and nothing can be put by the side of the space in front of St. Mark's Square—I mean that great mirror of water, which is encompassed by Venice proper, in the form of a crescent. Across the watery surface, you see to the left the island of St. Giorgio Maggiore; to the right, a little farther off, the Guidecca and its canal, and, still more distant, the Dogana (custom-house) and the entrance into the Canal Grande, where right before us two immense marble temples are glittering in the sunshine. All the views and prospects have been so often engraved, that my friends will have no difficulty in forming a clear idea of them.
After dinner I hastened to fix my first impression of the whole, and without a guide, and merely observing the cardinal points, threw myself into the labyrinth of the city, which, though everywhere intersected by larger or smaller canals, is again connected by bridges. The narrow and crowded appearance of the whole cannot be conceived by one who has not seen it. In most cases one can quite or nearly measure the breadth of the street by stretching out one's arms; and, in the narrowest, a person would scrape his elbows if he walked with his arms akimbo. Some streets, indeed, are wider, and here and there is a little square; but comparatively all may be called narrow.
I easily found the Grand Canal and the principal bridge, the Rialto, which consists of a single arch of white marble. Looking down from this, one has a fine prospect,—the canal full of ships, which bring every necessary from the Continent, and put in chiefly at this place to unload; while between them is a swarm of gondolas. To-day especially, being Michaelmas, the view was wonderfully animated. But, to give some notion of it, I must go back a little.
The two principal parts of Venice, which are divided by the Grand Canal, are connected by no other bridge than the Rialto; but several means of communication are provided, and the river is crossed in open boats at certain fixed points. To-day a very pretty effect was produced by the number of well-dressed ladies, who, their features concealed beneath large black veils, were being ferried over in large parties at a time, in order to go to the Church of the Archangel, whose festival was being solemnised. I left the bridge, and went to one of the points of landing, to see the parties as they left the boats. I discovered some very fine forms and faces among them.
After I had become tired of this amusement, I seated myself in a gondola, and quitting the narrow streets, with the intention of witnessing a spectacle of an opposite description, went along the northern part of the Grand Canal, into the lagunes, and then entered the Canal della Guidecca, going as far as the Square of St. Mark. Now was I also one of the birds of the Adriatic Sea, as every Venetian feels himself to be whilst reclining in his gondola. I then thought with due honour of my good father, who knew of nothing better than to talk about the things I now witnessed. And will it not be so with me likewise? All that surrounds me is —a grand, venerable work of combined human energies, a noble monument, not of a ruler, but of a people. And if their lagunes are gradually filling up, if unwholesome vapours are floating over the marsh, if their trade is declining, and their power has sunk, still the great place and the essential character will not, for a moment, be less venerable to the observer. Venice succumbs to time, like everything that has a phenomenal existence.
Toward evening I again rambled, without a guide, into the remotest quarters of the city. The bridges here are all provided with stairs, that gondolas, and even larger vessels, may pass conveniently under the arches. I sought to find my way in and out of this labyrinth, without asking anybody, and, on this occasion also, only guiding myself by the points of the compass. One disentangles one's self at last; but it is a wonderful complication, and my manner of obtaining a sensible impression of it is the best. I have now been to the remotest points of the city, and observed the conduct, mode of life, manners, and character of the inhabitants; and in every quarter they are different. Gracious Heaven! what a poor, good sort of animal man is, after all!Most of the smaller houses stand immediately on the canals; but there are here and there quays of stone, beautifully paved, along which one may take a pleasant walk between the water, and the churches and palaces. Particularly cheerful and agreeable is the long stone quay on the northern side, from which the islands are visible, especially Murano, which is a Venice on a small scale. The intervening lagunes are all alive with little gondolas.
Sept. 30. Evening.
To-day I have enlarged my notions of Venice by procuring a plan of it. When I had studied it for some time, I ascended the Tower of St. Mark, where a unique spectacle is presented to the eye. It was noon; and the sun was so bright, that I could see places near and distant without a glass. The tide covered the lagunes; and, when I turned my eyes toward what is called the "Lido" (this is a narrow strip of earth which bounds the lagunes), I saw the sea for the first time with some sails upon it. In the lagunes themselves some galleys and frigates are lying, destined to join the Chevalier Emo, who is making war on the Algerines, but detained by unfavourable winds. The mountains of Padua and Vicenza, and the mountain chain of Tyrol, beautifully bound the picture between the north and west.
I went out and surveyed the city from many points of view; and, as it was Sunday, I was struck by the great want of cleanliness in the streets, which forced me to make some reflections. There seems to be a sort of policy in this matter; for the people scrape the sweepings into the corners, and I see large ships going backward and forward, which, at several points, lie to, and take off the accumulation. They belong to the people of the surrounding islands, who are in want of manure. But there is neither consistency nor strictness in this method. And the want of cleanliness in the city is the more unpardonable, as in it as much provision has been made for cleaning it as in any Dutch town.
All the streets are paved, even those in the remotest quarters, with bricks at least, which are laid down lengthwise, with the edges slightly canted. The middle of the street, where necessary, is raised a little; while channels are formed on each side to receive the water, and convey it into covered drains. There are other architectural arrangements in the original well-considered plan, which prove the intention of the excellent architects to make Venice the most cleanly, as well as the most singular, of cities. As I walked along, I could not refrain from sketching a body of regulations, anticipating in thought some superintendent of police, who might be in earnest. Thus one always has an impulse and a desire to sweep his neighbour's door.
Oct. 2, 1786.
Before all things, I hastened to the Carità. I had found in Palladio's works that he had planned a monastic building here, in which he intended to represent a private residence of the rich and hospitable ancients. The plan, which was excellently drawn both as a whole and in detail, gave me infinite delight; and I hoped to find a marvel. Alas! scarcely a tenth part of the edifice is finished. However, even this part is worthy of that heavenly genius. There is a completeness in the plan, and an accuracy in the execution, which I had never before witnessed. One ought to pass whole years in the contemplation of such a work. It seems to me that I have seen nothing grander, nothing more perfect, and I fancy that I am not mistaken. Only imagine the admirable artist, born with an inner feeling for the grand and the pleasing, now, for the first time, forming himself by the ancients, with incredible labour, that he may be the means of reviving them. He finds an opportunity to carry out a favourite thought in building a convent, which is destined as a dwelling for so many monks, and a shelter for so many strangers, in the form of an antique private residence.
The church was already standing, and led to an atrium of Corinthian columns. Here one feels delighted, and forgets all priestcraft. At one end the sacristy, at another a chapter-room is found; while there is the finest winding staircase in the world, with a wide well, and the stone steps built into the wall, and so laid that one supports another. One is never tired of going up and down this staircase; and we may judge of its success from the fact that Palladio himself declares that he has succeeded. The fore-court leads to the large inner court. Unfortunately, nothing is finished of the building which was to surround this, except the left side. Here there are three rows of columns, one over the other. On the ground-floor are the halls; on the first story is an archway in front of the cells; and the upper story consists of a plain wall with windows. However, this description should be illustrated by a reference to the sketches. I will just add a word about the execution.
Only the capitals and bases of the columns, and the keystones of the arches, are of hewn stone: all the rest is—I will not say of brick, but—of burned clay. This description of tile I never saw before. The frieze and cornice are of the same material, as well as the parts of the arch. All is but half burnt; and lastly the building is put together with a very little lime. As it stands, it looks as if it had been produced at one cast. If the whole had been finished, and properly rubbed up and coloured, it would have been a charming sight.However, as so often happens with buildings of a modern time, the plan was too large. The artist had presupposed, not only that the existing convent would be pulled down, but also that the adjoining houses would be bought; and here money and inclination probably began to fail. Kind Destiny, thou who hast formed and perpetuated so much stupidity, why didst thou not allow this work to be completed!
The Church Il Redentore is a large and beautiful work by Palladio, with a façade even more worthy of praise than that of St. Giorgio. These works, which have often been engraved, must be placed before you to elucidate what is said. I will only add a few words.
Palladio was thoroughly imbued with the antique mode of existence, and felt the narrow, petty spirit of his own age, like a great man, who will not give way to it, but strives to mould, as far as possible, all that it leaves him, into accordance with his own noble ideas. From a slight perusal of his book I conclude that he was displeased with the continued practice of building Christian churches after the form of the ancient Basilica, and, therefore, tried to make his own sacred edifices approximate to the form of the antique temple. Hence arose certain discrepancies, which, as it seemed to me, are happily avoided in Il Redentore, but are rather obvious in the St. Giorgio. Volckmann says something about it, but does not hit the nail on the head.
The interior of Il Redentore is likewise admirable. Everything, including even the designs of the altars, is by Palladio. Unfortunately, the niches, which should have been filled with statues, are glaring with wooden figures, flat, carved, and painted.
In honour of St. Francis, St. Peter's Capuchins have splendidly adorned a side altar. There was nothing to be seen of stone but the Corinthian capitals: all the rest seemed to be covered with tasteful but splendid embroidery in the arabesque style; and the effect was as pretty as could be desired. I particularly admired the broad tendrils and foliage, embroidered in gold. Going nearer, I discovered an ingenious deception. All that I had taken for gold was, in fact, straw pressed flat, and glued upon paper, according to some beautiful outlines; while the ground was painted with lively colours. This is done with such variety and tact, that the design, which was probably worked in the convent itself with a material that was worth nothing, must have cost several thousand dollars, if the material had been genuine. It might, on occasion, be advantageously imitated.
On one of the quays, and in front of the water, I have often remarked a little fellow telling stories, in the Venetian dialect, to a greater or less concourse of auditors. Unfortunately I cannot understand a word; but I observe that no one laughs, though the audience, who are composed of the lowest class, occasionally smile. There is nothing striking or ridiculous in the man's appearance, but on the contrary, something very sedate, with such admirable variety and precision in his gestures, that they evince art and reflection.
With my plan in my hand, I endeavoured to find my way through the strangest labyrinth to the Church of the Mendicanti. Here is the conservatorium, which stands in the highest repute at the present day. The ladies performed an oratorio behind the grating. The church was filled with hearers, the music was very beautiful, and the voices were magnificent. An alto sung the part of King Saul, the chief personage in the poem. Of such a voice I had no notion whatever. Some passages of the music were excessively beautiful; and the words, which were Latin, most laughably Italianised in some places, were perfectly adapted for singing. Music here has a wide field.
The performance would have been a source of great enjoyment, if the accursed Maestro di Capella had not beaten time, with a roll of music, against the grating, as conspicuously as if he had to do with schoolboys whom he was instructing. As the girls had repeated the piece often enough, his noise was quite unnecessary, and destroyed all impression, as much as he would, who, in order to make a beautiful statue intelligible to us, should stick scarlet patches on the joints. The foreign sound destroys all harmony. Now, this man is a musician and yet he seems not to be sensible of this; or, more properly speaking, he chooses to let his presence be known by an impropriety, when it would have been much better to allow his value to be perceived by the perfection of the execution. I know that this is the fault of the French; but I did not give the Italians credit for it, and yet the public seems accustomed to it. This is not the first time that that which spoils enjoyment has been supposed to be indispensable to it.
Yesterday evening I went to the opera at the St. Moses (for the theatres take their name from the church to which they lie nearest). Nothing very delightful. In the plan, the music, and the singers, that energy was wanting which alone can elevate opera to the highest point. One could not say of any part that it was bad; but the two female actresses alone took pains, not so much to act well, but to set themselves off, and to please. That is something, after all. These two actresses have beautiful figures and good voices, and are nice, lively, compact little bodies. Among the men, on the other hand, there is no trace of national power, or even of pleasure, in working on the imaginations of their audience. Neither is there among them any voice of decided brilliancy.
The ballet, which was wretchedly conceived, was condemned as a whole; but some excellent dancers and danseuses, the latter of whom considered it their duty to make the spectators acquainted with all their personal charms, were heartily applauded.
To-day, however, I saw another comedy, which gave me more pleasure. In the ducal palace I heard the public discussion of a law case. It was important, and, happily for me, was brought forward in the holidays. One of the advocates had all the qualifications for an exaggerated buffo. His figure was short and fat, but supple: in profile his features were monstrously prominent. He had a stentorian voice, and a vehemence as if everything that he said came in earnest from the very bottom of his heart. I call this a comedy; because, probably, everything had been already prepared when the public exhibition took place. The judges knew what they had to say, and the parties what they had to expect. However, this plan pleases me infinitely more than our hobbling law affairs. I will endeavour to give some notion of the particulars, and of the neat, natural, and unostentatious manner in which everything takes place.
In a spacious hall of the palace, the judges were sitting on one side, in a half-circle. Opposite to them, in a tribune which could hold several persons, were the advocates for both parties; and upon a bench immediately in front of them, the plaintiff and defendant in person. The advocate for the plaintiff had descended from the tribune, since there was to be no controversy at this day's sitting. All the documents on both sides were to be read, although they were already printed.A lean clerk, in a black scanty gown, and with a thick bundle in his hand, prepared to perform the office of a reader. The hall was completely crammed with persons who came to see and to hear. The point of law itself, and the persons whom it concerned, must have appeared highly important to the Venetians.
Trust estates are so decidedly secured in Venice, that a property once stamped with this character preserves it for ever; though it may have been divested ages ago by appropriations or other circumstances, and though it may have passed through ever so many hands. When the matter comes into dispute, the descendants of the first family recover their right, and the property must be delivered up.
On this occasion the discussion was highly important; for the action was brought against the doge himself, or rather against his wife, who, veiled by her zendal, or little hood, sat only at a little distance from the plaintiff. She was a lady of a certain age, of noble stature, and with well-formed features, in which there was something of an earnest, not to say fretful, character. The Venetians make it a great boast that the princess in her own palace is obliged to appear before them and the tribunal.
When the clerk began to read, I for the first time clearly discerned the business of a little man who sat on a low stool behind a small table opposite the judges, and near the advocates. More especially I learned the use of an hour-glass, which was placed before him. As long as the clerk reads, time is not heeded; but the advocate is only allowed a certain time, if he speaks in the course of the reading. The clerk reads, and the hour-glass lies in a horizontal position, with the little man's hand upon it. As soon as the advocate opens his mouth, the glass is raised, and sinks again as soon as he is silent. It is the great duty of the advocate to make remarks on what is read, to introduce cursory observations, in order to excite and challenge attention. This puts the little Saturn in a state of the greatest perplexity. He is obliged every moment to change the horizontal and vertical position of the glass, and finds himself in the situation of the evil spirits in the puppet-show, who, by the quickly varying "Berliche, Berloche" of the mischievous Hanswurst, are puzzled whether they are to come or to go.
Whoever has heard documents read over in a law court can imagine the reading on this occasion,—quick and monotonous, but plain and articulate enough. The ingenious advocate contrives to interrupt the tedium by jests; and the public shows its delight in his jokes by immoderate laughter. I must mention one, the most striking of those I could understand. The reader was just reciting the document by which one who was considered to have been illegally possessed of it had disposed of the property in question. The advocate bade him read more slowly; and when he plainly uttered the words, "I give and bequeath," the orator flew violently at the clerk, and cried, "What will you give, what will you bequeath, you poor starved-out devil? Nothing in the world belongs to you. However," he continued, as he seemed to collect himself, "the illustrious owner was in the same predicament. He wished to give, he wished to bequeath, that which belonged to him no more than to you." A burst of inextinguishable laughter followed this sally, but the hour-glass at once resumed its horizontal position. The reader went mumbling on, and made a saucy face at the advocate. But all these jokes are prepared beforehand.
I was yesterday at the play in the theatre of St. Luke, and was highly pleased. I saw a piece acted extempore in masks, with a great deal of nature, energy, and vigour. The actors are not, indeed, all equal. The pantaloon is excellent; and one of the actresses, who is stout and well-built, speaks admirably, and deports herself cleverly, though she is no extraordinary actress. The subject of the piece is extravagant, and resembled that which is treated by us under the name of “Der Verschlag” (“the partition”). With inexhaustible variety, it amused us for more than three hours. But even here the people is the base upon which everything rests. The spectators are themselves actors, and the multitude is melted into one whole with the stage. All day long the buyer and the seller, the beggar, the sailor, the female gossip, the advocate and his opponent, are living and acting in the square and on the bench, in the gondolas and in the palaces, and make it their business to talk and to asseverate, to cry and to offer for sale, to sing and to play, to curse and to brawl. In the evening they go into the theatre, and see and hear the life of the day artificially put together, prettily set off, interwoven with a story, removed from reality by the masks, and brought near to it by manners In all this they take a childish delight, and again shout and clap, and make a noise. From day to night, nay, from midnight to midnight, it is always the same.
I have not often seen more natural acting than that of these masks. It is such acting as can only be sustained by a remarkably happy talent and long practice.
While I am writing this, they are making a tremendous noise on the canal under my window, though it is past midnight. Whether for good or for evil, they are always doing something.
I have now heard public orators; viz., three fellows in the square and on the stone beach (each telling tales after his fashion), two advocates, two preachers, and the actors, among whom I must especially commend the pantaloon. All these have something in common, both because they belong to one and the same nation,—which, as it always lives in public, always adopts an impassioned manner of speaking,—and because they imitate each other. There is, besides, a marked language of gesticulations, with which they accompany the expressions of their intentions, views, and feelings.
This day was the festival of St. Francis; and I was in his church, Alle Vigne. The loud voice of the Capuchin was accompanied by the cries of the salesmen in front of the church, as by an antiphony. I stood at the church door between the two, and the effect was singular enough.
This morning I was in the arsenal, which I found interesting enough, though I know nothing of maritime affairs; and visited the lower school there. It has an appearance like that of an old family, which still bustles about, although its best time of blossom and fruit has passed. By paying attention to the handicraftsmen, I have seen much that is remarkable, and have been on board an eighty-four-gun ship, the hull of which is just completed.
Six months ago, a thing of the sort was burned down to the water's edge, off the Riva dei Schiavoni. The powder-room was not very full; and, when it blew up, it did no great damage. The windows of the neighbouring houses were destroyed.I have seen worked the finest oak from Istria, and have made my observations in return upon this valuable tree. That knowledge of the natural things used by man as materials, and employed for his wants, which I have acquired with so much difficulty, has been incalculably serviceable in explaining to me the proceedings of artists and artisans. The knowledge of mountains, and of the stone taken out of them, has been to me a great advance in art.
To give a notion of the Bucentaur in one word, I should say that it is a state galley. The older one, of which we still have drawings, justified this appellation still more than the present one, which, by its splendour, makes us forget its original.
I am always returning to my old opinions. When a genuine subject is given to an artist, his productions will be something genuine also. Here the artist was commissioned to form a galley worthy to carry the heads of the republic on the highest festivals in honour of its ancient rule on the sea; and the problem has been admirably solved. The vessel is all ornament: we ought to say it is overladen with ornament. It is altogether one piece of gilt carving, for no other use but that of a pageant to exhibit to the people its leaders in right noble style. We know well enough that a people who likes to deck out its boats is no less pleased to see their rulers bravely adorned. This state galley is a good index to show what the Venetians were, and what they considered themselves.
Oct. 5. Night.
I have come home from a tragedy, and am still laughing; and I must at once make the jest secure upon paper. The piece was not bad. The author had brought together all the tragic matadors, and the actors played well. Most of the situations were well known, but some were new and highly felicitous. There are two fathers who hate each other; sons and daughters of these severed families, who respectively are passionately in love with each other; and one couple is even privately married. Wild and cruel work goes on; and at last nothing remains to render the young people happy, but to make the two fathers kill each other, upon which the curtain falls amid the liveliest applause. Now the applause becomes more vehement, now fuora was called out; and this lasted until the two principal couples vouchsafed to crawl forward from behind the curtain, make their bow, and retire at the opposite side.
The public was not yet satisfied, but went on clapping, and crying, "I morti!" till the two dead men also came forward, and made their bow, when some voices cried, "Bravi i morti!" The applause detained them for a long time, till at last they were allowed to depart. The effect is infinitely more droll to the eye-and-ear witness, who, like me, has ringing in his ears the "bravo! bravi!" which the Italians have incessantly in their mouths, and then suddenly hears the dead also called forward with this word of honour.
We of the north can say "good night" at any hour, when we take leave after dark; but the Italian says, "Felicissima notte" only once, and that is when the candles are brought into a room. Day and night are thus divided, and something quite different is meant. So impossible is it to translate the idioms of any language. From the highest to the lowest word, all has reference to the peculiarities of the natives, in character, opinions, or circumstances.
The tragedy yesterday taught me a great deal. In the first place, I have heard how the Italians treat and declaim their eleven-syllable iambics; and, in the next place, I have understood the tact of Gozzi in combining masks with his tragic personages. This is the proper sort of play for this people, which likes to be moved in a rough fashion. It has no tender, heartfelt sympathy for the unfortunate personage, but is only pleased when the hero speaks well. The Italians attach a great deal of importance to the speaking; and then they like to laugh, or to hear something silly.
Their interest in the drama is like that in the real event. When the tyrant gave his son a sword, and required him to kill his own wife, who was standing opposite, the people began loudly to express their disapprobation of this demand; and there was a great risk that the piece would have been interrupted. They insisted that the old man should take his sword back, in which case all the subsequent situations in the drama would have been completely spoiled. At last the distressed son plucked up courage, advanced to the proscenium, and humbly entreated that the audience would have patience for a moment, assuring them that all would turn out to their entire satisfaction. But, even judging from an artistical point of view, this situation was, under the circumstances, silly and unnatural, and I commended the people for their feeling.
I can now better understand the long speeches and the frequent dissertations, pro and con, in the Greek tragedy. The Athenians liked still more to hear speaking, and were still better judges of it, than the Italians. They learned something from the courts of law, where they spent the whole day.
In those works of Palladio which are completed, I have found much to blame, together with much that is highly valuable. While I was reflecting how far I was right or wrong in setting my judgment in opposition to that of so extraordinary a man, I felt as if he stood by and said, "I did so and so against my will, but, nevertheless, I did it, because in this manner alone was it possible for me, under the given circumstances, to approximate to my highest idea."
The more I consider the matter, the more it seems to me that Palladio, while contemplating the height and width of an already existing church, or of an old house to which he was to attach façades, only considered, "How will you give the greatest form to these dimensions? Some part of the detail must, from the necessity of the case, be put out of its place, or spoiled, and something unseemly is sure to arise here and there. Be that as it may, the whole will have a grand style, and you will be pleased with your work."
And thus he carried out the great image which he had within his soul, just to the point where it was not quite suitable, and where he was obliged, in the detail, to mutilate or to overcrowd it.
On the other hand, the wing of the Carità cannot be too highly prized; for here the artist's hands were free, and he could follow the bent of his own mind without constraint. If the convent were finished, there would, perhaps, be no work of architecture more perfect throughout the present world.
How he thought and how he worked become more and more clear to me, the more I read his works, and reflect how he treated the ancients; for he says few words, but they are all important. The fourth book, which illustrates the antique temples, is a good introduction to a judicious examination of ancient remains.
Yesterday evening I saw the "Electra " of Crébillon, that is to say a translation, at the Theatre St. Crisostomo. I cannot say how absurd the piece appeared to me, and how terribly it tired me out.
The actors are generally good, and know how to put off the public with single passages.
Orestes alone has three narratives poetically set off in one scene. Electra, a pretty little woman, of the middle size and stature, with almost French vivacity, and with a good deportment, delivered the verses beautifully, only she acted the part madly from beginning to end, which, alas! it requires. However, I have again learned something. The Italian iambic, which is invariably of eleven syllables, is very inconvenient for declamation, because the last syllable is always short, and causes an involuntary elevation of the declaimer's voice.
This morning I was present at high mass, which annually, on this day, the doge must attend, in the Church of St. Justina, to commemorate an old victory over the Turks. When the gilded barks which carry the princes and a portion of the nobility approach the little square; when the boatmen, in their rare liveries, are plying their red-painted oars; when, on the shore, the clergy and the religious fraternities are standing, pushing, moving about, and waiting with their lighted torches, fixed upon poles and portable silver chandeliers; then, when the gangways covered with carpet are placed from the vessels to the shore, and first the full violet dresses of the Savii, next the ample red robes of the senators, are unfolded upon the pavement, and, lastly, when the old doge, adorned with his golden Phrygian cap, in his long golden talar and his ermine cloak, steps out of the vessel,—when all this, I say, takes place in a little square before the portal of a church, one feels as if he were looking at an old worked tapestry, exceedingly well designed and coloured. To me, northern fugitive as I am, this ceremony gave a great deal of pleasure. With us, who parade nothing but short coats in our processions of pomp, and who conceive nothing greater than one performed with shouldered arms, such an affair might be out of place. But these trains, these peaceful celebrations, are all in keeping here.The doge is a well-grown and well-shaped man, who, perhaps, suffers from ill health, but nevertheless, for dignity's sake, bears himself upright under his heavy robe. In other respects he looks like the grandpapa of the whole race, and is kind and affable. His dress is very becoming. The little cap which he wears under the large one does not offend the eye, resting as it does upon the whitest and finest hair in the world.
About fifty nobili, with long dark red trains, were with him. For the most part, they were handsome men; and there was not a single uncouth figure among them. Several of them were tall, with large heads; so that the white curly wigs were very becoming to them. Their features are prominent. The flesh of their faces is soft and white, without looking flabby and disagreeable. On the contrary, there is an appearance of talent without exertion, repose, self-confidence, easiness of existence; and a certain joyousness pervades the whole.
When all had taken their places in the church, and mass began, the fraternities entered by the chief door, and went out at the side door to the right, after they had received holy water in couples, and made their obeisance to the high altar, to the doge, and the nobility.
For this evening I had bespoke the celebrated song of the mariners, who chant Tasso and Ariosto to melodies of their own. This must be actually ordered, as it is not to be heard as a thing of course, but rather belongs to the half-forgotten traditions of former times. I entered a gondola by moonlight, with one singer before, and the other behind me. They sing their song, taking up the verses alternately. The melody, which we know through Rousseau, is of a middle kind, between choral and recitative, maintaining throughout the same cadence, without any fixed time. The modulation is also uniform, only varying with a sort of declamation, both tone and measure, according to the subject of the verse. But the spirit, the life of it, is as follows:Without inquiring into the construction of the melody, suffice it to say, that it is admirably suited to that easy class of people, who, always humming something or other to themselves, adapt such tunes to any little poem they know by heart.
Sitting on the shore of an island, on the bank of a canal, or on the side of a boat, a gondolier will sing away with a loud penetrating voice,—the multitude admire force above everything,—anxious only to be heard as far as possible. Over the silent mirror it travels far. Another in the distance, who is acquainted with the melody, and knows the words, takes it up, and answers with the next verse, and then the first replies; so that the one is, as it were, the echo of the other. The song continues through whole nights, and is kept up without fatigue. The farther the singers are from each other, the more touching sounds the strain. The best place for the listener is half-way between the two.
In order to let me hear it, they landed on the bank of the Guidecca, and took up different positions by the canal. I walked backward and forward between them, so as to leave the one whose turn it was to sing, and to join the one who had just left off. Then it was that the effect of the strain first opened upon me. As a voice from the distance, it sounds in the highest degree strange,—as a lament without sadness: it has an incredible effect, and is moving even to tears. I ascribed this to my own state of mind; but my old boatman said, " È singolare, como quel canto intenerirsce, e molto piu quando è piu ben cantato." He wished that I could hear the women of the Lido, especially those of Malamocco and Pelestrina. These also, he told me, chanted Tasso and Ariosto to the same or similar melodies. He went on, "In the evening, while their husbands are on the sea, fishing, they are accustomed to sit on the beach, and with shrill, penetrating voice to make these strains resound, until they catch from the distance the voices of their partners, and in this way they keep up a communication with them." Is not that beautiful? And yet it is very possible that one who heard them close by would take little pleasure in such tones, which have to vie with the waves of the sea. Human, however, and true, becomes the song in this way. Thus is life given to the melody on whose dead elements we should otherwise have been sadly puzzled. It is the song of one solitary, singing at a distance, in the hope that another of kindred feelings and sentiments may hear and answer.
Venice, Oct. 8, 1786.
I paid a visit to the Palace Pisani Moretta, for the sake of a charming picture by Paul Veronese. The females of the family of Darius are represented kneeling before Alexander and Hephæstion: his mother, who is in the foreground, mistakes Hephæstion for the king; turning away from her, he points to Alexander. A strange story is told about this painting. The artist had been well received and for a long time honourably entertained in the palace: in return, he secretly painted the picture, and left it behind him as a present, rolled up under his bed. Certainly it well deserves to have had a singular origin, for it gives an idea of all the peculiar merits of this master. The great art with which he manages, by a skilful distribution of light and shade, and by an equally clever contrast of the local colours, to produce a most delightful harmony, without throwing any sameness of tone over the whole picture, is here most strikingly visible. For the picture is in excellent preservation, and stands before us almost with the freshness of yesterday. Indeed, whenever a painting of this order has suffered from neglect, our enjoyment of it is marred on the spot, even before we are conscious what the cause may be.
Whoever feels disposed to quarrel with the artist on the score of costume has only to say he ought to have painted a scene of the sixteenth century; and the matter is at an end. The gradation in the expression, from the mother through the wife to the daughters, is in the highest degree true and happy. The youngest princess, who kneels behind all the rest, is a beautiful girl, and has a very pretty, but somewhat independent and haughty, countenance. Her position does not at all seem to please her.
My old gift of seeing the world with the eyes of that painter whose pictures have most recently made an impression on me, has occasioned me some peculiar reflections. It is evident that the eye forms itself by the objects which from youth up it is accustomed to look upon; and so the Venetian artist must see all things in a clearer and brighter light than other men. We, whose eye when out-of-doors falls on a dingy soil, which, when not muddy, is dusty, and which, always colourless, gives a sombre hue to the reflected rays, or at home spend our lives in close, narrow rooms, can never attain to such a cheerful view of nature.
As I floated down the lagunes in the full sunshine, and observed how the figures of the gondoliers in their motley costume, and as they rowed, lightly moving above the sides of the gondola, stood out from the bright green surface, and against the blue sky, I caught the best and freshest type possible of the Venetian school. The sunshine brought out the local colours with dazzling brilliancy; and the shades even were so luminous, that, comparatively, they in their turn might serve as lights. And the same may be said of the reflection from the sea-green water. All was painted chiaro nell chiaro; so that foamy waves and lightning-flashes were necessary to give it the last finish (um die Tüpfchen auf "i" zu setzen).
Titian and Paul have this brilliancy in the highest degree; and, whenever we do not find it in any of their works, the piece is either damaged or has been touched up.
The cupola and vaulting of St. Mark's, with its sidewalls, are covered with paintings,—a mass of richly coloured figures on a golden ground, all in mosaic-work; some of them very good, others but poor, according to the masters who furnished the cartoons.
Circumstances here have strangely impressed on my mind how everything depends on the first invention, and that this constitutes the right standard, the true genius; since with little square pieces of glass (and here not in the soberest manner) it is possible to imitate the good as well as the bad. The art which furnished to the ancients their pavements, and to the Christians the vaulted veilings of their churches, fritters itself away in our days on snuff-box lids and bracelet-clasps. The present times are worse even than one thinks.
Venice, Oct. 8, 1786.
In the Farsetti Palace, there is a valuable collection of casts from the best antiques. I pass over all such as I had seen before at Mannheim or elsewhere, and mention only new acquaintances,–a Cleopatra in intense repose, with the asp coiled round her arm, and sinking into the sleep of death; a Niobe shrouding with her robe her youngest daughter from the arrows of Apollo; some gladiators; a winged genius resting in his flight; some philosophers, both in sitting and standing postures.
They are works from which, for thousands of years to come, the world may receive delight and instruction, without ever being able to equal with their thanks the merits of the artists.
Many speaking busts transported me to the old, glorious times. Only I felt, alas! how backward I am in these studies. However, I will go on with them: at least, I know the way. Palladio has opened the road for me to this and every other art and life. That sounds, probably, somewhat strange, and yet not so paradoxical as when Jacob Böhme says, that, by seeing a pewter platter by a ray from Jupiter, he was enlightened as to the whole universe. There is also in this collection a fragment of the entablature of the temple of Antonius and Faustina, in Rome.
The bold front of this noble piece of architecture reminded me of the capital of the Pantheon at Mannheim. It is, indeed, something very different from our queer saints, piled up one above the other on little consoles, after the Gothic style of decoration; something different from our tobacco-pipe-like shafts, our little steeple-crowned towers and foliated terminals. From all taste for these I am now, thank God, set free for ever!
I will further mention a few works of statuary, which, as I passed along these last few days, I have observed with astonishment and instruction. Before the gate of the Arsenal two huge hons of white marble: the one is half recumbent, raising himself up on his fore feet; the other is lying,—noble emblems of the variety of life. They are of such huge proportions, that all around appears little, and man himself would become as nought, did not sublime objects elevate him. They are of the best times of Greece, and were brought here from the Piræus, in the better days of the Republic.
From Athens, too, in all probability, came two basreliefs which have been introduced in the Church of St. Justina, the conqueress of the Turks. Unfortunately they are in some degree hidden by the church seats. The sacristan called my attention to them, on account of the tradition that Titian modelled from them the beautiful angel in his picture of the martyrdom of St. Peter. The relievos represent genii, who are decking themselves out with the attributes of the gods,—so beautiful in truth as to transcend all idea or conception.
Next I contemplated with quite peculiar feelings the naked colossal statue of Marcus Agrippa, in the court of a palace: a dolphin, which is twisting itself by his side, points out the naval hero. How does such an heroic representation make the mere man equal to the gods!
I took a close view of the horses of St. Mark's. When one looks up at them from below, it is easy to see that they are spotted: in places they exhibit a beautiful yellow-metallic lustre, in others a coppery green has run over them. Viewing them more closely, one sees distinctly that once they were gilt all over; and long streaks are still to be seen over them, as the barbarians did not attempt to file off the gold, but tried to cut it off. That, too, is well: thus the shape at least has been preserved.
A glorious team of horses: I should like to hear the opinion of a good judge of horse-flesh. What seemed strange to me was, that, closely viewed, they appear heavy, while from the piazza below they look as light as deer.
Oct. 8, 1786.
Yesterday I set out early, with my tutelary genius, for the Lido,—the tongue of land which shuts in the lagunes, and divides them from the sea. We landed, and walked straight across the isthmus. I heard a loud hollow murmur: it was the sea. I soon saw it: it crested high against the shore, as it retired. It was about noon, and time of ebb. I have then at last seen the sea with my own eyes, and followed it on its beautiful bed, just as it quitted it. I wished the children had been there to gather the shells: childlike, I myself picked up plenty of them. However, I attempted to make them useful: I tried to dry in them some of the fluid of the cuttle-fish, which here dart away from you in shoals.
On the Lido, not far from the sea, is the burial-place of Englishmen, and, a little farther on, of the Jews. Both alike are refused the privilege of resting in consecrated ground. I found here the tomb of Smith, the noble English consul, and of his first wife. It is to him that I owe my first copy of Palladio. I thanked him for it, here in his unconsecrated grave. And not only unconsecrated, but half buried, is the tomb. The Lido is at best but a sand-bank (daune). The sand is carried from it backward and forward by the wind, and, thrown up in heaps, is encroaching on every side. In a short time the monument, which is tolerably high, will no longer be visible.
But the sea—it is a grand sight! I will try and get a sail upon it some day in a fishing-boat. The gondolas never venture out so far.
Oct. 8, 1786.
On the seacoast I found, also, several plants, whose characters, similar to others I already knew, enabled me to recognise pretty well their properties. They are all alike, fat and strong, full of sap, and clammy; and it is evident that the old salt of the sandy soil, but still more the saline atmosphere, gives them these properties. Like aquatic plants, they abound in sap, and are fleshy and tough, like mountainous ones. Those whose leaves show a tendency to put forth prickles, after the manner of thistles, have them extremely sharp and strong. I found a bush with leaves of this kind. It looked very much like our harmless colt's-foot, only here it is armed with sharp weapons,—the leaves like leather, as also are the seed-vessels, and the stalk very thick and succulent. I bring with me seeds and specimens of the leaves (Eryngium maritimum).The fish-market, with its numberless marine productions, afforded me much amusement. I often go there to contemplate the poor captive inhabitants of the sea.
Venice, Oct. 9, 1786.
A delicious day, from morning to night. I have been toward Chiozza, as far as Pelestrina, where are the great structures called "Murazzi," which the republic has caused to be raised against the sea. They are of hewn stone, and properly are intended to protect from the fury of the wild element the tongue of land, called the "Lido," which separates the lagunes from the sea.
The lagunes are the work of old nature. First of all, the land and tide, the ebb and flow, working against one another, and then the gradual sinking of the primal waters, were, together, the causes why, at the upper end of the Adriatic, we find a pretty extensive range of marshes, which, covered by the flood-tide, are partly left bare by the ebb. Art took possession of the highest spots; and thus arose Venice, formed out of a group of a hundred isles, and surrounded by hundreds more. Moreover, at an incredible expense of money and labour, deep canals have been dug through the marshes, in order, that, at the time of high water, ships-of-war might pass to the chief points. What human industry and wit contrived and executed of old, skill and industry must now keep up. The Lido, a long narrow strip of land, separates the lagunes from the sea, which can enter at only two points,—at the castle and at the opposite end, near Chiozza. The tide flows in usually twice a day, and with the ebb carries out the waters twice, and always by the same channel and in the same direction. The flood covers the lower parts of the morass, but leaves the higher, if not dry, yet visible.
The case would be quite altered, were the sea to make new ways for itself to attack the tongue of land, and flow in and out wherever it chose. Not to mention that the little villages on the Lido—viz., Pelestrina, St. Peter's, and others—would be overwhelmed, the canals of communication would be choked up, and, while the water involved all in ruin, the Lido would be changed into an island, and the islands which now lie behind it be converted into necks and tongues of land. To guard against this, it was necessary to protect the Lido as far as possible, lest the furious element should capriciously attack and overthrow what man had already taken possession of, and, with a certain end and purpose, given shape and use to.
In extraordinary cases, when the sea rises above measure, it is especially necessary to prevent it entering at more than two points. Accordingly, the rest of the sluice-gates being shut, it is, with all its violence, unable to enter, and in a few hours submits to the law of the ebb, and its fury lessens.
But Venice has nothing to fear: the extreme slowness with which the sea-line retires assures to her thousands of years yet; and, by prudently deepening the canals from time to time, they will easily maintain their possessions against the inroads of the water.
I only wish they were keeping their streets a little cleaner,—a duty which is as necessary as it is easy of performance, and which, in fact, becomes of great consequence in the course of centuries. Even now, in the principal thoroughfares, it is forbidden to throw anything into the canals: the sweepings even of the streets may not be cast into them. No measures, however, are taken to prevent the rain, which here falls in sudden and violent torrents, from carrying off the dirt, which is collected in piles at the corner of every street, and washing it into the lagunes, nay, what is still worse, into the gutters for carrying off the water, which consequently are often so completely stopped up, that the principal squares are in danger of being under water. Even in the smaller piazza of St. Mark's I have seen the gullies, which are well laid down there, as well as in the greater square, choked up, and full of water.
When a rainy day comes, the filth is intolerable: every one is cursing and scolding. In ascending and descending the bridges, one soils one's mantle and greatcoat (Tabarro), which is here worn all the year round; and, as one goes along in shoes and silk stockings, he gets splashed, and then scolds; for it is not common mud, but such as adheres and stains, that one is here splashed with. The weather soon becomes fine again, and then no one thinks of cleaning the streets. How true is the saying, the public is ever complaining that it is ill served, and never knows how to set about getting better served. Here, if the sovereign people wished it, it might be done forthwith.
This evening I ascended the Tower of St. Mark's. As I had lately seen from its top the lagunes in their glory at flood-time, I wished also to see them at low water; for, in order to have a correct idea of the place, it is necessary to take in both views. It looks strange to see land all around where there had previously been a mirror of waters. The islands are no longer islands, merely higher and house-crowned spots in one large morass of a gray-greenish colour, and intersected by beautiful canals. The marshy parts are overgrown with aquatic plants,—a circumstance which must tend, in time, to raise their level, although the ebb and flow are continually shaking and tossing them, and leave no rest to the vegetation.
I now return with my narrative once more to the sea. I there saw yesterday the haunts of the sea-snails, the limpets, and the crab, and was highly delighted with the sight. What a precious glorious object is a living thing! how wonderfully adapted to its state of existence, how true, how real (seyend)! What great advantages I now derive from my former studies of nature, and how delighted I am with the opportunity of continuing them! But, as this is a matter that admits of being communicated, I will not excite the sympathy of my friends by mere exclamations.
The stone-works which have been built against the inroads of the sea consist, first of all, of several steep steps; then comes a slightly inclined plane; then, again, they rise a step, which is once more succeeded by a gently ascending surface; and last of all comes a perpendicular wall with an overhanging coping over these steps: over these planes the raging sea rises, until, in extraordinary cases, it even dashes over the highest wall with its projecting head.
The sea is followed by its inhabitants,—little periwinkles good to eat, monovalve limpets, and whatever else has the power of motion, especially by the pungar-crabs. But scarcely have these little creatures taken possession of the smooth walls, when the sea retires again, swelling and cresting as it came. At first the crowd know not where they are, and keep hoping that the briny flood will soon return; but it still keeps away. The sun scorches, and quickly dries all up; and now begins the retreat. It is on these occasions that the pungars seek their prey. Nothing more wonderful or comical can be seen than the manœuvres of these little creatures, with their round bodies and two long claws (for the other spider-feet are scarcely worth noticing). On these stilted fore-legs, as it were, they stride along, watching the limpets; and, as soon as one moves under its shell on the rock, a pungar comes up, and, inserting the point of his claw in the tiny interstice between the shell and the rock, turns it over, and so manages to swallow the oyster. The limpets, on the other hand, proceed cautiously on their way, and by suction fasten themselves firmly to the rocky surface as soon as they are aware of the proximity of their foe. In such cases the pungar deports himself amusingly enough: round and round the pulpy animal, who keeps himself safe beneath his roof, will he go with singular politeness; but not succeeding with all his coaxing, and being unable to overcome its powerful muscle, he leaves in despair this intended victim, and hastens after another, who may be wandering less cautiously on his way.
I never saw a crab succeed in his designs, although I have watched for hours the retreat of the little troop as they crawled down the two planes and the intermediate steps.
Venice, Oct. 10, 1786.
At last I am able to say that I have seen a comedy. Yesterday, at the theatre of St. Luke, was performed "Le Baruffe Chiozotte," which I should interpret the "Frays and Feuds of Chiozza." The dramatis personæ are principally seafaring people, inhabitants of Chiozza, with their wives, sisters, and daughters. The usual noisy demonstrations of such sort of people in their good or ill luck, their dealings one with another, their vehemence, but goodness of heart, commonplace remarks, and unaffected manners, their naïve wit and humour,—all this was excellently imitated. The play, moreover, is Goldoni's; and as I had been only the day before in the place itself, and as the tones and manners of the sailors and people of the seaport still echoed in my ears and floated before my eyes, it delighted me very much; and, although I did not understand a single allusion, I was, on the whole, able to follow the plot pretty well. I will now give you the plan of the piece. It opens with the females of Chiozza sitting, as usual, on the strand before their cabins, spinning, mending nets, sewing, or making lace. A youth passes by, and notices one of them with a more friendly greeting than he does the rest. Immediately the joking begins, and observes no bounds. Becoming tarter and tarter, and growing ill-tempered, it soon bursts out into reproaches: abuse vies with abuse. In the midst of all, one dame, more vehement than the rest, bounces out with the truth; and now an endless din of scolding, railing, and screaming. There is no lack of more decided outrage, and at last the peace-officers are compelled to interfere.
The second act opens with the court of justice. In the absence of the podesta (who, being a noble, could not lawfully be brought upon the stage), the actuarius presides. He orders the women to be brought before him one by one. This gives rise to an interesting scene. It happens that this official personage is himself enamoured of the first of the combatants who is brought before him. Only too happy to have an opportunity of speaking with her alone, instead of hearing what she has to say on the matter in question, he makes her a declaration of love. In the midst of it a second woman, who is herself in love with the actuary, in a fit of jealousy rushes in, and with her the suspicious lover of the first damsel, who is followed by all the rest; and now the same demon of confusion riots in the court, as, a little before, had set at loggerheads the people of the harbour. In the third act the fun gets more and more boisterous, and the whole ends with a hasty and poor dénouement. The happiest thought, however, of the whole piece, is a character who is thus drawn: an old sailor, who, owing to the hardships to which he had been exposed from his childhood, trembles and falters in all his limbs, and especially in his organs of speech, is brought on the scene to serve as a foil to this restless, screaming, and jabbering crew. Before he can utter a word, he has to make a long preparation by a slow twitching of his lips and an assistant motion of his hands and arms: at last he blurts out what his thoughts are on the matter in dispute. But, as he can only manage to do this in very short sentences, he acquires thereby a sort of laconic gravity, so that all he utters sounds like an adage or maxim; and in this way a happy contrast is afforded to the wild and passionate exclamations of the other personages.
But, even as it was, I never witnessed anything like the noisy delight the people evinced at seeing themselves and their mates represented with such truth of nature. It was one continued laugh, and tumultuous shout of exultation, from beginning to end. I must, however, confess that the piece was extremely well acted by the players. According to the cast of their several parts, they had adopted among them the different tones of voice which usually prevail among the inhabitants of the place. The first actress was the universal favourite, more so even than she had recently been in an heroic dress and a scene of passion. The female players generally, but especially this one, imitated in the most pleasing manner possible the twang, the manners, and other peculiarities, of the people they represented. Great praise is due to the author, who out of nothing has here created the most amusing divertissement. However, he never could have done it with any other people than his own merry and light-hearted countrymen. The farce is written throughout with a practised hand.
Of Sacchi's company, for which Gozzi wrote (but which by the by is now broken up), I saw Smeraldina, a short, plump figure, full of life, tact, and good humour. With her I saw Brighella, a slight, well-made man and an excellent actor, especially in pantomime. These masks, which we scarcely know, except in the form of mummings, and which to our minds possess neither life nor meaning, succeed here only too well as the creation of the national taste. Here the most distinguished characters, persons of every age and condition, think nothing of dressing themselves out in the strangest costumes; and as, for the greater part of the year, they are accustomed to wander about in masks, they feel no surprise at seeing the black visors on the stage also.
Venice, Oct. 11, 1786.
Since solitude in the midst of a great crowd of human beings is, after all, not possible, I have taken up with an old Frenchman, who knows nothing of Italian, and suspects that he is cheated on all hands, and taken advantage of, and who, notwithstanding plenty of letters of recommendation, does not make his way with the good people here. A man of rank, who is well bred, but whose mind cannot go beyond himself and his own immediate circle. He is, perhaps, full fifty, and has at home a boy seven years old, of whom he is always anxious to get news. He is travelling through Italy for pleasure, but rapidly, in order to be able to say that he has seen it, but is willing to learn whatever is possible as he hurries along. I have shown him some civilities, and given him information about many matters. While I was speaking to him about Venice, he asked me how long I had been here, and when he heard that this was my first visit, and that I had only been here fourteen days, he replied, "Il parait que vous n'avez pas perdu votre temps." This is the first testimonium of my good behaviour that I can furnish you. He has been here a week, and leaves to-morrow. It was highly delicious to me to meet in a strange land with such a regular Versailles man. He is now about to quit me. It caused me some surprise to think that any one could ever travel in this temper, without a thought for anything beyond himself; and yet he is, in his way, a polished, sensible, and well-conducted person.
Venice, Oct. 12, 1786.
Yesterday, at St. Luke's, a new piece was acted, "L'Inglicismo in Italia" ("The English in Italy"). As there are many Englishmen living in Italy, it is not unnatural that their ways and habits should excite notice; and I expected to learn from this piece what the Italians thought of their rich and welcome visitors. But it was a total failure. There were, of course (as is always the case here), some clever scenes between buffoons; but the rest was cast altogether in too grave and heavy a mould, and yet not a trace of the English good sense; plenty of the ordinary Italian commonplaces of morality, and those, too, upon the most common topics.
And it did not take: indeed, it was on the very point of being hissed off the stage. The actors felt themselves out of their element, not on the strand of Chiozza. As this was the last piece that I saw here, my enthusiasm for these national representations did not seem likely to be increased by this piece of folly.
As I have at last gone through my journal, and entered some occasional remarks from my tablets, my proceedings are now enrolled, and left to the sentence of my friends. There is, I am conscious, very much in these leaves which I might qualify, enlarge upon, and improve. Let, however, what is written stand as the memorial of first impressions, which, if not always correct, will nevertheless be ever dear and precious to me. Oh, that I could but transmit to my friends a breath merely of this light existence! Verily, to the Italian, "ultramontane" is a very vague idea; and, before my mind even, "beyond the Alps" rises very obscurely, although from out of their mists friendly forms are beckoning to me. It is the climate only that seduces me to prefer awhile these lands to those; for birth and habit forge strong fetters. Here, however, I could not live, nor, indeed, in any place where I had nothing to occupy my mind; but at present novelty furnishes me here with endless occupation. Architecture rises, like an ancient spirit from the tombs, and bids me study its laws, just as people study the rules of a dead language, not in order to practise or to take a living joy in them, but only in order to enable myself, in the quiet depths of my own mind, to do honour to her existence in bygone ages, and her for ever departed glory. As Palladio everywhere refers one to Vitruvius, I have bought Galiani's edition; but this folio suffers in my portmanteau as much as my brain does in the study of it. Palladio, by his words and works, by his method and way, both of thinking and of executing, has brought Vitruvius home to me, and interpreted him far better than the Italian translator ever can. Vitruvius himself is no easy reading: his book is obscurely written, and requires a critical study. Notwithstanding, I have read it through cursorily, and it has left on my mind many a glorious impression. To express my meaning better, I read it like a breviary, more out of devotion than for instruction. Already the days begin to draw in, and allow more time for reading and writing.
God be praised! Whatever from my youth up appeared to me of worth is beginning once more to be dear to me. How happy do I feel that I can again venture to approach the ancient authors! For now I may tell it, and confess at once my disease and my folly. For many a long year I could not bear to look at a Latin author, perusal of Wieland's translation of the "Satires" made me utterly wretched. I had barely read two when I was already beside myself.to cast my eye upon anything that might serve to awaken in my mind the thoughts of Italy. If by accident I did so, I suffered the most horrible tortures of mind. It was a frequent joke of Herder's, at my expense, that I had learned all my Latin from Spinoza; for he had noticed that this was the only Latin work I ever read. But he was not aware how carefully I was obliged to keep myself from the ancients; how even these abstruse generalities were but cursorily read by me, and even then not without pain. At last matters came to that pitch that even the
Had I not made the resolve which I am now carrying into effect, I should have been altogether lost, to such a degree of intensity had the desire grown to see these objects with my own eyes. Historical acquaintance with them did me no good. The things stood only a hand's-breadth away from me; but still they were separated from me by an impenetrable wall. And in fact, at the present moment I somehow feel as if this were not the first time that I had seen these things, but as if I were paying a second visit to them. Although I have been but a short time in Venice, I have adapted myself pretty well to the ways of the place, and feel confident that I shall carry away with me a clear and true, though incomplete idea of it.
Venice, Oct. 14, 1786.
Two o'clock, morning.
In the last moments of my stay here; for I am to start almost immediately, with the packet-boat, for Ferrara. I quit Venice without reluctance; for, to stay here longer with any satisfaction and profit to myself, I must take other steps, which would carry me beyond my present plan. Besides, everybody is now leaving this city, and making for the beautiful gardens and seats on the Terra Firma. I, however, go away well loaded, and shall carry along with me its rich, rare, and unique image.
- A "convention's dollar" is a dollar coined in consequence of an agreement made between several of the German states in the year 1750, when the Viennese standard was adopted.—Trans.
- An allusion to the comic scene in the puppet-play of "Faust," from which Goethe took the subject of his poem. One of the two magic words (Berliche, Berloche) summons the devils, the other drives them away; and the Hanswurst (or "buffoon"), in a mock incantation scene, perplexes the fiends by uttering one word after the other as rapidly as possible.—Trans.