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The Grand Canal by Henry James


THE ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALEXANDER ZEZZOS.

Scribner's Magazine—Vol. XII—November 1892—No. 5

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The faces at the window look out at the great Sansovino—-the splendid pile that is now occupied by the Prefect. I feel decidedly that I don't object as I ought to the palaces of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their pretensions impose upon me, and the imagination peoples them more freely than it can people the interiors of the prime. Was not, moreover, this masterpiece of Sansovino once occupied by the Venetian post-office, and thereby intimately connected with an ineffaceable first impression of the author of these remarks? He had arrived, wondering, palpitating, twenty-three years ago, after nightfall, and, the first thing on the morrow, had repaired to the post-office for his letters. They had been waiting a long time and were full of delayed interest, and he returned with them to the gondola and floated slowly down the Canal. The mixture, the rapture, the wonderful temple of the poste restante, the beautiful strangeness, all humanized by good news—-the memory of this abides with him still, so that there always proceeds from the splendid water-front I speak of a certain secret appeal, something that seems to have been uttered first in the sonorous chambers of youth. Of course this association falls to the ground—-or rather splashes into the water—-if I am the victim of a confusion. Was the edifice in question twenty-three years ago the post-office, which has occupied since, for many a day, very much humbler quarters? I am afraid to take the proper steps for finding out, lest I should learn that, for all these years, I have misdirected my emotion. A better reason for the sentiment, at any rate, is that such a great house has surely, in the high beauty of it's tiers, a refinement of it's own. They make one think of coliseums and aqueducts and bridges, and they constitute, doubtless, in Venice, the most pardonable specimen of the imitative. I have even a timid kindness for the huge Pesaro, far down the Canal, whose main reproach, more even than the coarseness of it's forms, is it's swaggering size, it's want of consideration for the general picture, which the early examples so reverently respect. The Pesaro is as far out of the frame as a modern hotel, and the Cornaro, close to it, oversteps almost equally the modesty of art. One more thing they and their kindred do, I must add, for which, unfortunately, we can patronize them less. They make even the most elaborate material civilization of the present day seem woefully shrunken and bourgeois, for they simply (I allude to the biggest palaces) cannot be lived in as they were intended to be. The modern tenant may take in all the magazines, but he bends not the bow of Achilles. He occupies the place, but he doesn't fill it, and he has guests from the neighbouring inns with ulsters and Badekers.

We are far, at the Pesaro, by the way, from our attaching window, and we take advantage of it to go in rather a melancholy mood to the end. The long straight vista from the Foscari to the Rialto, the great middle stretch of the Canal, contains, as the phrase is, a hundred objects of interest, but it contains most the bright oddity of it's general deluged air. In all these centuries it has never got over it's resemblance to a flooded city; for some reason or other it is the only part of Venice in which the houses look as if the waters had overtaken them. Everywhere else they reckon with them—-they have chosen them; here alone the lapping seaway seems to confess itself an accident.

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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