by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Clara Bell and James Waring
To Jacques Strunz.
MY DEAR STRUNZ:--I should be ungrateful if I did not set your name
at the head of one of the two tales I could never have written but
for your patient kindness and care. Accept this as my grateful
acknowledgment of the readiness with which you tried--perhaps not
very successfully--to initiate me into the mysteries of musical
knowledge. You have at least taught me what difficulties and what
labor genius must bury in those poems which procure us
transcendental pleasures. You have also afforded me the
satisfaction of laughing more than once at the expense of a self-
Some have taxed me with ignorance, not knowing that I have taken
counsel of one of our best musical critics, and had the benefit of
your conscientious help. I have, perhaps, been an inaccurate
amanuensis. If this were the case, I should be the traitorous
translator without knowing it, and I yet hope to sign myself
always one of your friends.
As all who are learned in such matters know, the Venetian aristocracy
is the first in Europe. Its Libro d'Oro dates from before the
Crusades, from a time when Venice, a survivor of Imperial and
Christian Rome which had flung itself into the waters to escape the
Barbarians, was already powerful and illustrious, and the head of the
political and commercial world.
With a few rare exceptions this brilliant nobility has fallen into
utter ruin. Among the gondoliers who serve the English--to whom
history here reads the lesson of their future fate--there are
descendants of long dead Doges whose names are older than those of
sovereigns. On some bridge, as you glide past it, if you are ever in
Venice, you may admire some lovely girl in rags, a poor child
belonging, perhaps, to one of the most famous patrician families. When
a nation of kings has fallen so low, naturally some curious characters
will be met with. It is not surprising that sparks should flash out
among the ashes.
These reflections, intended to justify the singularity of the persons
who figure in this narrative, shall not be indulged in any longer, for
there is nothing more intolerable than the stale reminiscences of
those who insist on talking about Venice after so many great poets and
petty travelers. The interest of the tale requires only this record of
the most startling contrast in the life of man: the dignity and
poverty which are conspicuous there in some of the men as they are in
most of the houses.
The nobles of Venice and of Geneva, like those of Poland in former
times, bore no titles. To be named Quirini, Doria, Brignole, Morosini,
Sauli, Mocenigo, Fieschi, Cornaro, or Spinola, was enough for the
pride of the haughtiest. But all things become corrupt. At the present
day some of these families have titles.
And even at a time when the nobles of the aristocratic republics were
all equal, the title of Prince was, in fact, given at Genoa to a
member of the Doria family, who were sovereigns of the principality of
Amalfi, and a similar title was in use at Venice, justified by ancient
inheritance from Facino Cane, Prince of Varese. The Grimaldi, who
assumed sovereignty, did not take possession of Monaco till much
The last Cane of the elder branch vanished from Venice thirty years
before the fall of the Republic, condemned for various crimes more or
less criminal. The branch on whom this nominal principality then
devolved, the Cane Memmi, sank into poverty during the fatal period
between 1796 and 1814. In the twentieth year of the present century
they were represented only by a young man whose name was Emilio, and
an old palace which is regarded as one of the chief ornaments of the
Grand Canal. This son of Venice the Fair had for his whole fortune
this useless Palazzo, and fifteen hundred francs a year derived from a
country house on the Brenta, the last plot of the lands his family had
formerly owned on terra firma, and sold to the Austrian government.
This little income spared our handsome Emilio the ignominy of
accepting, as many nobles did, the indemnity of a franc a day, due to
every impoverished patrician under the stipulations of the cession to
At the beginning of winter, this young gentleman was still lingering
in a country house situated at the base of the Tyrolese Alps, and
purchased in the previous spring by the Duchess Cataneo. The house,
erected by Palladio for the Piepolo family, is a square building of
the finest style of architecture. There is a stately staircase with a
marble portico on each side; the vestibules are crowded with frescoes,
and made light by sky-blue ceilings across which graceful figures
float amid ornament rich in design, but so well proportioned that the
building carries it, as a woman carries her head-dress, with an ease
that charms the eye; in short, the grace and dignity that characterize
the Procuratie in the piazetta at Venice. Stone walls, admirably
decorated, keep the rooms at a pleasantly cool temperature. Verandas
outside, painted in fresco, screen off the glare. The flooring
throughout is the old Venetian inlay of marbles, cut into unfading
The furniture, like that of all Italian palaces, was rich with
handsome silks, judiciously employed, and valuable pictures favorably
hung; some by the Genoese priest, known as il Capucino, several by
Leonardo da Vinci, Carlo Dolci, Tintoretto, and Titian.
The shelving gardens were full of the marvels where money has been
turned into rocky grottoes and patterns of shells,--the very madness
of craftsmanship,--terraces laid out by the fairies, arbors of sterner
aspect, where the cypress on its tall trunk, the triangular pines, and
the melancholy olive mingled pleasingly with orange trees, bays, and
myrtles, and clear pools in which blue or russet fishes swam. Whatever
may be said in favor of the natural or English garden, these trees,
pruned into parasols, and yews fantastically clipped; this luxury of
art so skilfully combined with that of nature in Court dress; those
cascades over marble steps where the water spreads so shyly, a filmy
scarf swept aside by the wind and immediately renewed; those bronzed
metal figures speechlessly inhabiting the silent grove; that lordly
palace, an object in the landscape from every side, raising its light
outline at the foot of the Alps,--all the living thoughts which
animate the stone, the bronze, and the trees, or express themselves in
garden plots,--this lavish prodigality was in perfect keeping with the
loves of a duchess and a handsome youth, for they are a poem far
removed from the coarse ends of brutal nature.
Any one with a soul for fantasy would have looked to see, on one of
those noble flights of steps, standing by a vase with medallions in
bas-relief, a negro boy swathed about the loins with scarlet stuff,
and holding in one hand a parasol over the Duchess' head, and in the
other the train of her long skirt, while she listened to Emilio Memmi.
And how far grander the Venetian would have looked in such a dress as
the Senators wore whom Titian painted.
But alas! in this fairy palace, not unlike that of the Peschieri at
Genoa, the Duchess Cataneo obeyed the edicts of Victorine and the
Paris fashions. She had on a muslin dress and broad straw hat, pretty
shot silk shoes, thread lace stockings that a breath of air would have
blown away; and over her shoulders a black lace shawl. But the thing
which no one could ever understand in Paris, where women are sheathed
in their dresses as a dragon-fly is cased in its annular armor, was
the perfect freedom with which this lovely daughter of Tuscany wore
her French attire; she had Italianized it. A Frenchwoman treats her
shirt with the greatest seriousness; an Italian never thinks about it;
she does not attempt self-protection by some prim glance, for she
knows that she is safe in that of a devoted love, a passion as sacred
and serious in her eyes as in those of others.
At eleven in the forenoon, after a walk, and by the side of a table
still strewn with the remains of an elegant breakfast, the Duchess,
lounging in an easy-chair, left her lover the master of these muslin
draperies, without a frown each time he moved. Emilio, seated at her
side, held one of her hands between his, gazing at her with utter
absorption. Ask not whether they loved; they loved only too well. They
were not reading out of the same book, like Paolo and Francesca; far
from it, Emilio dared not say: "Let us read." The gleam of those eyes,
those glistening gray irises streaked with threads of gold that
started from the centre like rifts of light, giving her gaze a soft,
star-like radiance, thrilled him with nervous rapture that was almost
a spasm. Sometimes the mere sight of the splendid black hair that
crowned the adored head, bound by a simple gold fillet, and falling in
satin tresses on each side of a spacious brow, was enough to give him
a ringing in his ears, the wild tide of the blood rushing through his
veins as if it must burst his heart. By what obscure phenomenon did
his soul so overmaster his body that he was no longer conscious of his
independent self, but was wholly one with this woman at the least word
she spoke in that voice which disturbed the very sources of life in
him? If, in utter seclusion, a woman of moderate charms can, by being
constantly studied, seem supreme and imposing, perhaps one so
magnificently handsome as the Duchess could fascinate to stupidity a
youth in whom rapture found some fresh incitement; for she had really
absorbed his young soul.
Massimilla, the heiress of the Doni, of Florence, had married the
Sicilian Duke Cataneo. Her mother, since dead, had hoped, by promoting
this marriage, to leave her rich and happy, according to Florentine
custom. She had concluded that her daughter, emerging from a convent
to embark in life, would achieve, under the laws of love, that second
union of heart with heart which, to an Italian woman, is all in all.
But Massimilla Doni had acquired in her convent a real taste for a
religious life, and, when she had pledged her troth to Duke Cataneo,
she was Christianly content to be his wife.
This was an untenable position. Cataneo, who only looked for a
duchess, thought himself ridiculous as a husband; and, when Massimilla
complained of this indifference, he calmly bid her look about her for
a cavaliere servente, even offering his services to introduce to her
some youths from whom to choose. The Duchess wept; the Duke made his
Massimilla looked about her at the world that crowded round her; her
mother took her to the Pergola, to some ambassadors' drawing-rooms, to
the Cascine--wherever handsome young men of fashion were to be met;
she saw none to her mind, and determined to travel. Then she lost her
mother, inherited her property, assumed mourning, and made her way to
Venice. There she saw Emilio, who, as he went past her opera box,
exchanged with her a flash of inquiry.
This was all. The Venetian was thunderstruck, while a voice in the
Duchess' ear called out: "This is he!"
Anywhere else two persons more prudent and less guileless would have
studied and examined each other; but these two ignorances mingled like
two masses of homogeneous matter, which, when they meet, form but one.
Massimilla was at once and thenceforth Venetian. She bought the
palazzo she had rented on the Canareggio; and then, not knowing how to
invest her wealth, she had purchased Rivalta, the country-place where
she was now staying.
Emilio, being introduced to the Duchess by the Signora Vulpato, waited
very respectfully on the lady in her box all through the winter. Never
was love more ardent in two souls, or more bashful in its advances.
The two children were afraid of each other. Massimilla was no
coquette. She had no second string to her bow, no secondo, no
terzo, no patito. Satisfied with a smile and a word, she admired
her Venetian youth, with his pointed face, his long, thin nose, his
black eyes, and noble brow; but, in spite of her artless
encouragement, he never went to her house till they had spent three
months in getting used to each other.
Then summer brought its Eastern sky. The Duchess lamented having to go
alone to Rivalta. Emilio, at once happy and uneasy at the thought of
being alone with her, had accompanied Massimilla to her retreat. And
now this pretty pair had been there for six months.
Massimilla, now twenty, had not sacrificed her religious principles to
her passion without a struggle. Still they had yielded, though
tardily; and at this moment she would have been ready to consummate
the love union for which her mother had prepared her, as Emilio sat
there holding her beautiful, aristocratic hand,--long, white, and
sheeny, ending in fine, rosy nails, as if she had procured from Asia
some of the henna with which the Sultan's wives dye their fingertips.
A misfortune, of which she was unconscious, but which was torture to
Emilio, kept up a singular barrier between them. Massimilla, young as
she was, had the majestic bearing which mythological tradition
ascribes to Juno, the only goddess to whom it does not give a lover;
for Diana, the chaste Diana, loved! Jupiter alone could hold his own
with his divine better-half, on whom many English ladies model
Emilio set his mistress far too high ever to touch her. A year hence,
perhaps, he might not be a victim to this noble error which attacks
none but very young or very old men. But as the archer who shoots
beyond the mark is as far from it as he whose arrow falls short of it,
the Duchess found herself between a husband who knew he was so far
from reaching the target, that he had ceased to try for it, and a
lover who was carried so much past it on the white wings of an angel,
that he could not get back to it. Massimilla could be happy with
desire, not imagining its issue; but her lover, distressful in his
happiness, would sometimes obtain from his beloved a promise that led
her to the edge of what many women call "the gulf," and thus found
himself obliged to be satisfied with plucking the flowers at the edge,
incapable of daring more than to pull off their petals, and smother
his torture in his heart.
They had wandered out together that morning, repeating such a hymn of
love as the birds warbled in the branches. On their return, the youth,
whose situation can only be described by comparing him to the cherubs
represented by painters as having only a head and wings, had been so
impassioned as to venture to hint a doubt as to the Duchess' entire
devotion, so as to bring her to the point of saying: "What proof do
The question had been asked with a royal air, and Memmi had ardently
kissed the beautiful and guileless hand. Then he suddenly started up
in a rage with himself, and left the Duchess. Massimilla remained in
her indolent attitude on the sofa; but she wept, wondering how, young
and handsome as she was, she could fail to please Emilio. Memmi, on
the other hand, knocked his head against the tree-trunks like a hooded
But at this moment a servant came in pursuit of the young Venetian to
deliver a letter brought by express messenger.
Marco Vendramini,--a name also pronounced Vendramin, in the Venetian
dialect, which drops many final letters,--his only friend, wrote to
tell him that Facino Cane, Prince of Varese, had died in a hospital in
Paris. Proofs of his death had come to hand, and the Cane-Memmi were
Princes of Varese. In the eyes of the two young men a title without
wealth being worthless, Vendramin also informed Emilio, as a far more
important fact, of the engagement at the Fenice of the famous tenor
Genovese, and the no less famous Signora Tinti.
Without waiting to finish the letter, which he crumpled up and put in
his pocket, Emilio ran to communicate this great news to the Duchess,
forgetting his heraldic honors.
The Duchess knew nothing of the strange story which made la Tinti an
object of curiosity in Italy, and Emilio briefly repeated it.
This illustrious singer had been a mere inn-servant, whose wonderful
voice had captivated a great Sicilian nobleman on his travels. The
girl's beauty--she was then twelve years old--being worthy of her
voice, the gentleman had had the moderation to have brought her up, as
Louis XV. had Mademoiselle de Romans educated. He had waited patiently
till Clara's voice had been fully trained by a famous professor, and
till she was sixteen, before taking toll of the treasure so carefully
La Tinti had made her debut the year before, and had enchanted the
three most fastidious capitals of Italy.
"I am perfectly certain that her great nobleman is not my husband,"
said the Duchess.
The horses were ordered, and the Duchess set out at once for Venice,
to be present at the opening of the winter season.
So one fine evening in November, the new Prince of Varese was crossing
the lagoon from Mestre to Venice, between the lines of stakes painted
with Austrian colors, which mark out the channel for gondolas as
conceded by the custom-house. As he watched Massimilla's gondola,
navigated by men in livery, and cutting through the water a few yards
in front, poor Emilio, with only an old gondolier who had been his
father's servant in the days when Venice was still a living city,
could not repress the bitter reflections suggested to him by the
assumption of his title.
"What a mockery of fortune! A prince--with fifteen hundred francs a
year! Master of one of the finest palaces in the world, and unable to
sell the statues, stairs, paintings, sculpture, which an Austrian
decree had made inalienable! To live on a foundation of piles of
campeachy wood worth nearly a million of francs, and have no
furniture! To own sumptuous galleries, and live in an attic above the
topmost arabesque cornice constructed of marble brought from the Morea
--the land which a Memmius had marched over as conqueror in the time
of the Romans! To see his ancestors in effigy on their tombs of
precious marbles in one of the most splendid churches in Venice, and
in a chapel graced with pictures by Titian and Tintoretto, by Palma,
Bellini, Paul Veronese--and to be prohibited from selling a marble
Memmi to the English for bread for the living Prince Varese! Genovese,
the famous tenor, could get in one season, by his warbling, the
capital of an income on which this son of the Memmi could live--this
descendant of Roman senators as venerable as Caesar and Sylla.
Genovese may smoke an Eastern hookah, and the Prince of Varese cannot
even have enough cigars!"
He tossed the end he was smoking into the sea. The Prince of Varese
found cigars at the Duchess Cataneo's; how gladly would he have laid
the treasures of the world at her feet! She studied all his caprices,
and was happy to gratify them. He made his only meal at her house--his
supper; for all his money was spent in clothes and his place in the
Fenice. He had also to pay a hundred francs a year as wages to his
father's old gondolier; and he, to serve him for that sum, had to live
exclusively on rice. Also he kept enough to take a cup of black coffee
every morning at Florian's to keep himself up till the evening in a
state of nervous excitement, and this habit, carried to excess, he
hoped would in due time kill him, as Vendramin relied on opium.
"And I am a prince!"
As he spoke the words, Emilio Memmi tossed Marco Vendramin's letter
into the lagoon without even reading it to the end, and it floated
away like a paper boat launched by a child.
"But Emilio," he went on to himself, "is but three and twenty. He is a
better man than Lord Wellington with the gout, than the paralyzed
Regent, than the epileptic royal family of Austria, than the King of
But as he thought of the King of France Emilio's brow was knit, his
ivory skin burned yellower, tears gathered in his black eyes and hung
to his long lashes; he raised a hand worthy to be painted by Titian to
push back his thick brown hair, and gazed again at Massimilla's
"And this insolent mockery of fate is carried even into my love
affair," said he to himself. "My heart and imagination are full of
precious gifts; Massimilla will have none of them; she is a
Florentine, and she will throw me over. I have to sit by her side like
ice, while her voice and her looks fire me with heavenly sensations!
As I watch her gondola a few hundred feet away from my own I feel as
if a hot iron were set on my heart. An invisible fluid courses through
my frame and scorches my nerves, a cloud dims my sight, the air seems
to me to glow as it did at Rivalta when the sunlight came through a
red silk blind, and I, without her knowing it, could admire her lost
in dreams, with her subtle smile like that of Leonardo's Mona Lisa.
Well, either my Highness will end my days by a pistol-shot, or the
heir of the Cane will follow old Carmagnola's advice; we will be
sailors, pirates; and it will be amusing to see how long we can live
without being hanged."
The Prince lighted another cigar, and watched the curls of smoke as
the wind wafted them away, as though he saw in their arabesques an
echo of this last thought.
In the distance he could now perceive the mauresque pinnacles that
crowned his palazzo, and he was sadder than ever. The Duchess' gondola
had vanished in the Canareggio.
These fantastic pictures of a romantic and perilous existence, as the
outcome of his love, went out with his cigar, and his lady's gondola
no longer traced his path. Then he saw the present in its real light:
a palace without a soul, a soul that had no effect on the body, a
principality without money, an empty body and a full heart--a thousand
heartbreaking contradictions. The hapless youth mourned for Venice as
she had been,--as did Vendramini, even more bitterly, for it was a
great and common sorrow, a similar destiny, that had engendered such a
warm friendship between these two young men, the wreckage of two
Emilio could not help dreaming of a time when the palazzo Memmi poured
out light from every window, and rang with music carried far away over
the Adriatic tide; when hundreds of gondolas might be seen tied up to
its mooring-posts, while graceful masked figures and the magnates of
the Republic crowded up the steps kissed by the waters; when its halls
and gallery were full of a throng of intriguers or their dupes; when
the great banqueting-hall, filled with merry feasters, and the upper
balconies furnished with musicians, seemed to harbor all Venice coming
and going on the great staircase that rang with laughter.
The chisels of the greatest artists of many centuries had sculptured
the bronze brackets supporting long-necked or pot-bellied Chinese
vases, and the candelabra for a thousand tapers. Every country had
furnished some contribution to the splendor that decked the walls and
ceilings. But now the panels were stripped of the handsome hangings,
the melancholy ceilings were speechless and sad. No Turkey carpets, no
lustres bright with flowers, no statues, no pictures, no more joy, no
money--the great means to enjoyment! Venice, the London of the Middle
Ages, was falling stone by stone, man by man. The ominous green weed
which the sea washes and kisses at the foot of every palace, was in
the Prince's eyes, a black fringe hung by nature as an omen of death.
And finally, a great English poet had rushed down on Venice like a
raven on a corpse, to croak out in lyric poetry--the first and last
utterance of social man--the burden of a de profundis. English
poetry! Flung in the face of the city that had given birth to Italian
poetry! Poor Venice!
Conceive, then, of the young man's amazement when roused from such
meditations by Carmagnola's cry:
"Serenissimo, the palazzo is on fire, or the old Doges have risen from
their tombs! There are lights in the windows of the upper floor!"
Prince Emilio fancied that his dream was realized by the touch of a
magic wand. It was dusk, and the old gondolier could by tying up his
gondola to the top step, help his young master to land without being
seen by the bustling servants in the palazzo, some of whom were
buzzing about the landing-place like bees at the door of a hive.
Emilio stole into the great hall, whence rose the finest flight of
stairs in all Venice, up which he lightly ran to investigate the cause
of this strange bustle.
A whole tribe of workmen were hurriedly completing the furnishing and
redecoration of the palace. The first floor, worthy of the antique
glories of Venice, displayed to Emilio's waking eyes the magnificence
of which he had just been dreaming, and the fairy had exercised
admirable taste. Splendor worthy of a parvenu sovereign was to be seen
even in the smallest details. Emilio wandered about without remark
from anybody, and surprise followed on surprise.
Curious, then, to know what was going forward on the second floor, he
went up, and found everything finished. The unknown laborers,
commissioned by a wizard to revive the marvels of the Arabian nights
in behalf of an impoverished Italian prince, were exchanging some
inferior articles of furniture brought in for the nonce. Prince Emilio
made his way into the bedroom, which smiled on him like a shell just
deserted by Venus. The room was so charmingly pretty, so daintily
smart, so full of elegant contrivance, that he straightway seated
himself in an armchair of gilt wood, in front of which a most
appetizing cold supper stood ready, and, without more ado, proceeded
"In all the world there is no one but Massimilla who would have
thought of this surprise," thought he. "She heard that I was now a
prince; Duke Cataneo is perhaps dead, and has left her his fortune;
she is twice as rich as she was; she will marry me----"
And he ate in a way that would have roused the envy of an invalid
Croesus, if he could have seen him; and he drank floods of capital
"Now I understand the knowing little air she put on as she said, 'Till
this evening!' Perhaps she means to come and break the spell. What a
fine bed! and in the bed-place such a pretty lamp! Quite a Florentine
There are some strongly blended natures on which extremes of joy or of
grief have a soporific effect. Now on a youth so compounded that he
could idealize his mistress to the point of ceasing to think of her as
a woman, this sudden incursion of wealth had the effect of a dose of
opium. When the Prince had drunk the whole of the bottle of port,
eaten half a fish and some portion of a French pate, he felt an
irresistible longing for bed. Perhaps he was suffering from a double
intoxication. So he pulled off the counterpane, opened the bed,
undressed in a pretty dressing-room, and lay down to meditate on
"I forgot poor Carmagnola," said he; "but my cook and butler will have
provided for him."
At this juncture, a waiting-woman came in, lightly humming an air from
the Barbiere. She tossed a woman's dress on a chair, a whole outfit
for the night, and said as she did so:
"Here they come!"
And in fact a few minutes later a young lady came in, dressed in the
latest French style, who might have sat for some English fancy
portrait engraved for a Forget-me-not, a Belle Assemblee, or a
Book of Beauty.
The Prince shivered with delight and with fear, for, as you know, he
was in love with Massimilla. But, in spite of this faith in love which
fired his blood, and which of old inspired the painters of Spain,
which gave Italy her Madonnas, created Michael Angelo's statues and
Ghilberti's doors of the Baptistery,--desire had him in its toils, and
agitated him without infusing into his heart that warm, ethereal glow
which he felt at a look or a word from the Duchess. His soul, his
heart, his reason, every impulse of his will, revolted at the thought
of an infidelity; and yet that brutal, unreasoning infidelity
domineered over his spirit. But the woman was not alone.
The Prince saw one of those figures in which nobody believes when they
are transferred from real life, where we wonder at them, to the
imaginary existence of a more or less literary description. The dress
of this stranger, like that of all Neapolitans, displayed five colors,
if the black of his hat may count for a color; his trousers were
olive-brown, his red waistcoat shone with gilt buttons, his coat was
greenish, and his linen was more yellow than white. This personage
seemed to have made it his business to verify the Neapolitan as
represented by Gerolamo on the stage of his puppet show. His eyes
looked like glass beads. His nose, like the ace of clubs, was horribly
long and bulbous; in fact, it did its best to conceal an opening which
it would be an insult to the human countenance to call a mouth;
within, three or four tusks were visible, endowed, as it seemed, with
a proper motion and fitting into each other. His fleshy ears drooped
by their own weight, giving the creature a whimsical resemblance to a
His complexion, tainted, no doubt, by various metallic infusions as
prescribed by some Hippocrates, verged on black. A pointed skull,
scarcely covered by a few straight hairs like spun glass, crowned this
forbidding face with red spots. Finally, though the man was very thin
and of medium height, he had long arms and broad shoulders.
In spite of these hideous details, and though he looked fully seventy,
he did not lack a certain cyclopean dignity; he had aristocratic
manners and the confident demeanor of a rich man.
Any one who could have found courage enough to study him, would have
seen his history written by base passions on this noble clay degraded
to mud. Here was the man of high birth, who, rich from his earliest
youth, had given up his body to debauchery for the sake of extravagant
enjoyment. And debauchery had destroyed the human being and made
another after its own image. Thousands of bottles of wine had
disappeared under the purple archway of that preposterous nose, and
left their dregs on his lips. Long and slow digestion had destroyed
his teeth. His eyes had grown dim under the lamps of the gaming table.
The blood tainted with impurities had vitiated the nervous system. The
expenditure of force in the task of digestion had undermined his
intellect. Finally, amours had thinned his hair. Each vice, like a
greedy heir, had stamped possession on some part of the living body.
Those who watch nature detect her in jests of the shrewdest irony. For
instance, she places toads in the neighborhood of flowers, as she had
placed this man by the side of this rose of love.
"Will you play the violin this evening, my dear Duke?" asked the
woman, as she unhooked a cord to let a handsome curtain fall over the
"Play the violin!" thought Prince Emilio. "What can have happened to
my palazzo? Am I awake? Here I am, in that woman's bed, and she
certainly thinks herself at home--she has taken off her cloak! Have I,
like Vendramin, inhaled opium, and am I in the midst of one of those
dreams in which he sees Venice as it was three centuries ago?"
The unknown fair one, seated in front of a dressing-table blazing with
wax lights, was unfastening her frippery with the utmost calmness.
"Ring for Giulia," said she; "I want to get my dress off."
At that instant, the Duke noticed that the supper had been disturbed;
he looked round the room, and discovered the Prince's trousers hanging
over a chair at the foot of the bed.
"Clarina, I will not ring!" cried the Duke, in a shrill voice of fury.
"I will not play the violin this evening, nor tomorrow, nor ever
"Ta, ta, ta, ta!" sang Clarina, on the four octaves of the same note,
leaping from one to the next with the ease of a nightingale.
"In spite of that voice, which would make your patron saint Clara
envious, you are really too impudent, you rascally hussy!"
"You have not brought me up to listen to such abuse," said she, with
"Have I brought you up to hide a man in your bed? You are unworthy
alike of my generosity and of my hatred--"
"A man in my bed!" exclaimed Clarina, hastily looking round.
"And after daring to eat our supper, as if he were at home," added the
"But am I not at home?" cried Emilio. "I am the Prince of Varese; this
palace is mine."
As he spoke, Emilio sat up in bed, his handsome and noble Venetian
head framed in the flowing hangings.
At first Clarina laughed--one of those irrepressible fits of laughter
which seize a girl when she meets with an adventure comic beyond all
conception. But her laughter ceased as she saw the young man, who, as
has been said, was remarkably handsome, though but lightly attired;
the madness that possessed Emilio seized her, too, and, as she had no
one to adore, no sense of reason bridled her sudden fancy--a Sicilian
woman in love.
"Although this is the palazzo Memmi, I will thank your Highness to
quit," said the Duke, assuming the cold irony of a polished gentleman.
"I am at home here."
"Let me tell you, Monsieur le Duc, that you are in my room, not in
your own," said Clarina, rousing herself from her amazement. "If you
have any doubts of my virtue, at any rate give me the benefit of my
"Doubts! Say proof positive, my lady!"
"I swear to you that I am innocent," replied Clarina.
"What, then, do I see in that bed?" asked the Duke.
"Old Ogre!" cried Clarina. "If you believe your eyes rather than my
assertion, you have ceased to love me. Go, and do not weary my ears!
Do you hear? Go, Monsieur le Duc. This young Prince will repay you the
million francs I have cost you, if you insist."
"I will repay nothing," said Emilio in an undertone.
"There is nothing due! A million is cheap for Clara Tinti when a man
is so ugly. Now, go," said she to the Duke. "You dismissed me; now I
dismiss you. We are quits."
At a gesture on Cataneo's part, as he seemed inclined to dispute this
order, which was given with an action worthy of Semiramis,--the part
in which la Tinti had won her fame,--the prima donna flew at the old
ape and put him out of the room.
"If you do not leave me in quiet this evening, we never meet again.
And my never counts for more than yours," she added.
"Quiet!" retorted the Duke, with a bitter laugh. "Dear idol, it
strikes me that I am leaving you agitata!"
The Duke departed.
His mean spirit was no surprise to Emilio.
Every man who has accustomed himself to some particular taste, chosen
from among the various effects of love, in harmony with his own
nature, knows that no consideration can stop a man who has allowed his
passions to become a habit.
Clarina bounded like a fawn from the door to the bed.
"A prince, and poor, young, and handsome!" cried she. "Why, it is a
The Sicilian perched herself on the bed with the artless freedom of an
animal, the yearning of a plant for the sun, the airy motion of a
branch waltzing to the breeze. As she unbuttoned the wristbands of her
sleeves, she began to sing, not in the pitch that won her the applause
of an audience at the Fenice, but in a warble tender with emotion.
Her song was a zephyr carrying the caresses of her love to the heart.
She stole a glance at Emilio, who was as much embarrassed as she; for
this woman of the stage had lost all the boldness that had sparkled in
her eyes and given decision to her voice and gestures when she
dismissed the Duke. She was as humble as a courtesan who has fallen in
To picture la Tinti you must recall one of our best French singers
when she came out in Il Fazzoletto, an opera by Garcia that was then
being played by an Italian company at the theatre in the Rue Lauvois.
She was so beautiful that a Naples guardsman, having failed to win a
hearing, killed himself in despair. The prima donna of the Fenice
had the same refinement of features, the same elegant figure, and was
equally young; but she had in addition the warm blood of Sicily that
gave a glow to her loveliness. Her voice was fuller and richer, and
she had that air of native majesty that is characteristic of Italian
La Tinti--whose name also resembled that which the French singer
assumed--was now seventeen, and the poor Prince three-and-twenty. What
mocking hand had thought it sport to bring the match so near the
powder? A fragrant room hung with rose-colored silk and brilliant with
wax lights, a bed dressed in lace, a silent palace, and Venice! Two
young and beautiful creatures! every ravishment at once.
Emilio snatched up his trousers, jumped out of bed, escaped into the
dressing-room, put on his clothes, came back and hurried to the door.
These were his thoughts while dressing:--
"Massimilla, beloved daughter of the Doni, in whom Italian beauty is
an hereditary prerogative, you who are worthy of the portrait of
Margherita, one of the few canvases painted entirely by Raphael to
his glory! My beautiful and saintly mistress, shall I not have
deserved you if I fly from this abyss of flowers? Should I be worthy
of you if I profaned a heart that is wholly yours? No; I will not fall
into the vulgar snare laid for me by my rebellious senses! This girl
has her Duke, mine be my Duchess!"
As he lifted the curtain, he heard a moan. The heroic lover looked
round and saw Clarina on her knees, her face hidden in the bed,
choking with sobs. Is it to be believed? The singer was lovelier
kneeling thus, her face invisible, than even in her confusion with a
glowing countenance. Her hair, which had fallen over her shoulders,
her Magdalen-like attitude, the disorder of her half-unfastened dress,
--the whole picture had been composed by the devil, who, as is well
known, is a fine colorist.
The Prince put his arm round the weeping girl, who slipped from him
like a snake, and clung to one foot, pressing it to her beautiful
"Will you explain to me," said he, shaking his foot to free it from
her embrace, "how you happen to be in my palazzo? How the impoverished
"Emilio Memmi!" cried Tinti, rising. "You said you were a Prince."
"A Prince since yesterday."
"You are in love with the Duchess Cataneo!" said she, looking at him
from head to foot.
Emilio stood mute, seeing that the prima dona was smiling at him
through her tears.
"Your Highness does not know that the man who had me trained for the
stage--that the Duke--is Cataneo himself. And your friend Vendramini,
thinking to do you a service, let him this palace for a thousand
crowns, for the period of my season at the Fenice. Dear idol of my
heart!" she went on, taking his hand and drawing him towards her, "why
do you fly from one for whom many a man would run the risk of broken
bones? Love, you see, is always love. It is the same everywhere; it is
the sun of our souls; we can warm ourselves whenever it shines, and
here--now--it is full noonday. If to-morrow you are not satisfied,
kill me! But I shall survive, for I am a real beauty!"
Emilio decided on remaining. When he signified his consent by a nod
the impulse of delight that sent a shiver through Clarina seemed to
him like a light from hell. Love had never before appeared to him in
so impressive a form.
At that moment Carmagnola whistled loudly.
"What can he want of me?" said the Prince.
But bewildered by love, Emilio paid no heed to the gondolier's
If you have never traveled in Switzerland you may perhaps read this
description with pleasure; and if you have clambered among those
mountains you will not be sorry to be reminded of the scenery.
In that sublime land, in the heart of a mass of rock riven by a gorge,
--a valley as wide as the Avenue de Neuilly in Paris, but a hundred
fathoms deep and broken into ravines,--flows a torrent coming from
some tremendous height of the Saint-Gothard on the Simplon, which has
formed a pool, I know not how many yards deep or how many feet long
and wide, hemmed in by splintered cliffs of granite on which meadows
find a place, with fir-trees between them, and enormous elms, and
where violets also grow, and strawberries. Here and there stands a
chalet and at the window you may see the rosy face of a yellow-haired
Swiss girl. According to the moods of the sky the water in this tarn
is blue and green, but as a sapphire is blue, as an emerald is green.
Well, nothing in the world can give such an idea of depth, peace,
immensity, heavenly love, and eternal happiness--to the most heedless
traveler, the most hurried courier, the most commonplace tradesman--as
this liquid diamond into which the snow, gathering from the highest
Alps, trickles through a natural channel hidden under the trees and
eaten through the rock, escaping below through a gap without a sound.
The watery sheet overhanging the fall glides so gently that no ripple
is to be seen on the surface which mirrors the chaise as you drive
past. The postboy smacks his whip; you turn past a crag; you cross a
bridge: suddenly there is a terrific uproar of cascades tumbling
together one upon another. The water, taking a mighty leap, is broken
into a hundred falls, dashed to spray on the boulders; it sparkles in
a myriad jets against a mass that has fallen from the heights that
tower over the ravine exactly in the middle of the road that has been
so irresistibly cut by the most formidable of active forces.
If you have formed a clear idea of this landscape, you will see in
those sleeping waters the image of Emilio's love for the Duchess, and
in the cascades leaping like a flock of sheep, an idea of his passion
shared with la Tinti. In the midst of his torrent of love a rock stood
up against which the torrent broke. The Prince, like Sisyphus, was
constantly under the stone.
"What on earth does the Duke do with a violin?" he wondered. "Do I owe
this symphony to him?"
He asked Clara Tinti.
"My dear child,"--for she saw that Emilio was but a child,--"dear
child," said she, "that man, who is a hundred and eighteen in the
parish register of vice, and only forty-seven in the register of the
Church, has but one single joy left to him in life. Yes, everything is
broken, everything in him is ruin or rags; his soul, intellect, heart,
nerves,--everything in man that can supply an impulse and remind him
of heaven, either by desire or enjoyment, is bound up with music, or
rather with one of the many effects produced by music, the perfect
unison of two voices, or of a voice with the top string of his violin.
The old ape sits on my knee, takes his instrument,--he plays fairly
well,--he produces the notes, and I try to imitate them. Then, when
the long-sought-for moment comes when it is impossible to distinguish
in the body of sound which is the note on the violin and which
proceeds from my throat, the old man falls into an ecstasy, his dim
eyes light up with their last remaining fires, he is quite happy and
will roll on the floor like a drunken man.
"That is why he pays Genovese such a price. Genovese is the only tenor
whose voice occasionally sounds in unison with mine. Either we really
do sing exactly together once or twice in an evening, or the Duke
imagines that we do; and for that imaginary pleasure he has bought
Genovese. Genovese belongs to him. No theatrical manager can engage
that tenor without me, nor have me to sing without him. The Duke
brought me up on purpose to gratify that whim; to him I owe my talent,
my beauty,--my fortune, no doubt. He will die of an attack of perfect
unison. The sense of hearing alone has survived the wreck of his
faculties; that is the only thread by which he holds on to life. A
vigorous shoot springs from that rotten stump. There are, I am told,
many men in the same predicament. May Madonna preserve them!
"You have not come to that! You can do all you want--all I want of
you, I know."
Towards morning the Prince stole away and found Carmagnola lying
asleep across the door.
"Altezza," said the gondolier, "the Duchess ordered me to give you
He held out a dainty sheet of paper folded into a triangle. The Prince
felt dizzy; he went back into the room and dropped into a chair, for
his sight was dim, and his hands shook as he read:--
"DEAR EMILIO:--Your gondola stopped at your palazzo. Did you not
know that Cataneo has taken it for la Tinti? If you love me, go
to-night to Vendramin, who tells me he has a room ready for you in
his house. What shall I do? Can I remain in Venice to see my
husband and his opera singer? Shall we go back together to Friuli?
Write me one word, if only to tell me what the letter was you
tossed into the lagoon.
The writing and the scent of the paper brought a thousand memories
back to the young Venetian's mind. The sun of a single-minded passion
threw its radiance on the blue depths come from so far, collected in a
bottomless pool, and shining like a star. The noble youth could not
restrain the tears that flowed freely from his eyes, for in the
languid state produced by satiated senses he was disarmed by the
thought of that purer divinity.
Even in her sleep Clarina heard his weeping; she sat up in bed, saw
her Prince in a dejected attitude, and threw herself at his knees.
"They are still waiting for the answer," said Carmagnola, putting the
"Wretch, you have undone me!" cried Emilio, starting up and spurning
Clarina with his foot.
She clutched it so lovingly, her look imploring some explanation,--the
look of a tear-stained Samaritan,--that Emilio, enraged to find
himself still in the toils of the passion that had wrought his fall,
pushed away the singer with an unmanly kick.
"You told me to kill you,--then die, venomous reptile!" he exclaimed.
He left the palace, and sprang into his gondola.
"Pull," said he to Carmagnola.
"Where?" asked the old servant.
"Where you will."
The gondolier divined his master's wishes, and by many windings
brought him at last into the Canareggio, to the door of a wonderful
palazzo, which you will admire when you see Venice, for no traveler
ever fails to stop in front of those windows, each of a different
design, vying with each other in fantastic ornament, with balconies
like lace-work; to study the corners finishing in tall and slender
twisted columns, the string-courses wrought by so inventive a chisel
that no two shapes are alike in the arabesques on the stones.
How charming is that doorway! how mysterious the vaulted arcade
leading to the stairs! Who could fail to admire the steps on which
ingenious art has laid a carpet that will last while Venice stands,--a
carpet as rich as if wrought in Turkey, but composed of marbles in
endless variety of shapes, inlaid in white marble. You will delight in
the charming ornament of the colonnades of the upper story,--gilt like
those of a ducal palace,--so that the marvels of art are both under
your feet and above your head.
What delicate shadows! How silent, how cool! But how solemn, too, was
that old palace! where, to delight Emilio and his friend Vendramin,
the Duchess had collected antique Venetian furniture, and employed
skilled hands to restore the ceilings. There, old Venice lived again.
The splendor was not merely noble, it was instructive. The
archaeologist would have found there such models of perfection as the
middle ages produced, having taken example from Venice. Here were to
be seen the original ceilings of woodwork covered with scrolls and
flowers in gold on a colored ground, or in colors on gold, and
ceilings of gilt plaster castings, with a picture of many figures in
each corner, with a splendid fresco in the centre,--a style so costly
that there are not two in the Louvre, and that the extravagance of
Louis XIV. shrunk from such expense at Versailles. On all sides
marble, wood, and silk had served as materials for exquisite
Emilio pushed open a carved oak door, made his way down the long,
vaulted passage which runs from end to end on each floor of a Venetian
palazzo, and stopped before another door, so familiar that it made his
heart beat. On seeing him, a lady companion came out of a vast
drawing-room, and admitted him to a study where he found the Duchess
on her knees in front of a Madonna.
He had come to confess and ask forgiveness. Massimilla, in prayer, had
converted him. He and God; nothing else dwelt in that heart.
The Duchess rose very unaffectedly, and held out her hand. Her lover
did not take it.
"Did not Gianbattista see you, yesterday?" she asked.
"No," he replied.
"That piece of ill-luck gave me a night of misery. I was so afraid
lest you might meet the Duke, whose perversity I know too well. What
made Vendramin let your palace to him?"
"It was a good idea, Milla, for your Prince is poor enough."
Massimilla was so beautiful in her trust of him, and so wonderfully
lovely, so happy in Emilio's presence, that at this moment the Prince,
wide awake, experienced the sensations of the horrible dream that
torments persons of a lively imagination, in which after arriving in a
ballroom full of women in full dress, the dreamer is suddenly aware
that he is naked, without even a shirt; shame and terror possess him
by turns, and only waking can relieve him from his misery. Thus stood
Emilio's soul in the presence of his mistress. Hitherto that soul had
known only the fairest flowers of feeling; a debauch had plunged it
into dishonor. This none knew but he, for the beautiful Florentine
ascribed so many virtues to her lover that the man she adored could
not but be incapable of any stain.
As Emilio had not taken her hand, the Duchess pushed her fingers
through his hair that the singer had kissed. Then she perceived that
Emilio's hand was clammy and his brow moist.
"What ails you?" she asked, in a voice to which tenderness gave the
sweetness of a flute.
"Never till this moment have I known how much I love you," he replied.
"Well, dear idol, what would you have?" said she.
"What have I done to make her ask that?" he wondered to himself.
"Emilio, what letter was that which you threw into the lagoon?"
"Vendramini's. I had not read it to the end, or I should never have
gone to my palazzo, and there have met the Duke; for no doubt it told
me all about it."
Massimilla turned pale, but a caress from Emilio reassured her.
"Stay with me all day; we will go to the opera together. We will not
set out for Friuli; your presence will no doubt enable me to endure
Cataneo's," said Massimilla.
Though this would be torment to her lover's soul, he consented with
If anything can give us a foretaste of what the damned will suffer on
finding themselves so unworthy of God, is it not the state of a young
man, as yet unpolluted, in the presence of a mistress he reveres,
while he still feels on his lips the taste of infidelity, and brings
into the sanctuary of the divinity he worships the tainted atmosphere
of the courtesan?
Baader, who in his lectures eliminated things divine by erotic
imagery, had no doubt observed, like some Catholic writers, the
intimate resemblance between human and heavenly love.
This distress of mind cast a hue of melancholy over the pleasure the
young Venetian felt in his mistress' presence. A woman's instinct has
amazing aptitude for harmony of feeling; it assumes the hue, it
vibrates to the note suggested by her lover. The pungent flavor of
coquettish spice is far indeed from spurring affection so much as this
gentle sympathy of tenderness. The smartness of a coquette too clearly
marks opposition; however transient it is displeasing; but this
intimate comprehension shows a perfect fusion of souls. The hapless
Emilio was touched by the unspoken divination which led the Duchess to
pity a fault unknown to her.
Massimilla, feeling that her strength lay in the absence of any
sensual side to her love, could allow herself to be expansive; she
boldly and confidently poured out her angelic spirit, she stripped it
bare, just as during that diabolical night, La Tinti had displayed the
soft lines of her body, and her firm, elastic flesh. In Emilio's eyes
there was as it were a conflict between the saintly love of this white
soul and that of the vehement and muscular Sicilian.
The day was spent in long looks following on deep meditations. Each of
them gauged the depths of tender feeling, and found it bottomless; a
conviction that brought fond words to their lips. Modesty, the goddess
who in a moment of forgetfulness with Love, was the mother of
Coquettishness, need not have put her hand before her face as she
looked at these lovers. As a crowning joy, an orgy of happiness,
Massimilla pillowed Emilio's head in her arms, and now and then
ventured to press her lips to his; but only as a bird dips its beak
into the clear waters of a spring, looking round lest it should be
seen. Their fancy worked upon this kiss, as a composer develops a
subject by the endless resources of music, and it produced in them
such tumultuous and vibrating echoes as fevered their blood.
The Idea must always be stronger than the Fact, otherwise desire would
be less perfect than satisfaction, and it is in fact the stronger,--it
gives birth to wit. And, indeed, they were perfectly happy; for
enjoyment must always take something off happiness. Married in heaven
alone, these two lovers admired each other in their purest aspect,--
that of two souls incandescent, and united in celestial light, radiant
to the eyes that faith has touched; and, above all, filled with the
rapture which the brush of a Raphael, a Titian, a Murillo, has
depicted, and which those who have ever known it, taste again as they
gaze at those paintings. Do not such peerless spirits scorn the
coarser joys lavished by the Sicilian singer--the material expression
of that angelic union?
These noble thoughts were in the Prince's mind as he reposed in
heavenly calm on Massimilla's cool, soft, white bosom, under the
gentle radiance of her eyes veiled by long, bright lashes; and he gave
himself up to this dream of an ideal orgy. At such a moment,
Massimilla was as one of the Virgin visions seen in dreams, which
vanish at cock-crow, but whom we recognize when we find them again in
their realm of glory,--in the works of some great painters of Heaven.
In the evening the lovers went to the theatre. This is the way of
Italian life: love in the morning; music in the evening; the night for
sleep. How far preferable is this existence to that of a country where
every one expends his lungs and strength in politics, without
contributing any more, single-minded, to the progress of affairs than
a grain of sand can make a cloud of dust. Liberty, in those strange
lands, consists in the right to squabble over public concerns, to take
care of oneself, to waste time in patriotic undertakings each more
futile than the last, inasmuch as they all weaken that noble, holy
self-concern which is the parent of all great human achievement. At
Venice, on the contrary, love and its myriad ties, the sweet business
of real happiness, fills up all the time.
In that country, love is so much a matter of course that the Duchess
was regarded as a wonder; for, in spite of her violent attachment to
Emilio, everybody was confident of her immaculate purity. And women
gave their sincere pity to the poor young man, who was regarded as a
victim to the virtue of his lady-love. At the same time, no one cared
to blame the Duchess, for in Italy religion is a power as much
respected as love.
Evening after evening Massimilla's box was the first object of every
opera-glass, and each woman would say to her lover, as she studied the
Duchess and her adorer:
"How far have they got?"
The lover would examine Emilio, seeking some evidence of success;
would find no expression but that of a pure and dejected passion. And
throughout the house, as they visited from box to box, the men would
say to the ladies:
"La Cataneo is not yet Emilio's."
"She is unwise," said the old women. "She will tire him out."
"Forse!" (Perhaps) the young wives would reply, with the solemn
accent that Italians can infuse into that great word--the answer to
many questions here below.
Some women were indignant, thought the whole thing ill-judged, and
declared that it was a misapprehension of religion to allow it to
"My dear, love that poor Emilio," said the Signora Vulpato to
Massimilla, as they met on the stairs in going out.
"I do love him with all my might," replied the Duchess.
"Then why does not he look happy?"
Massimilla's reply was a little shrug of her shoulders.
We in France--France as the growing mania for English proprieties has
made it--can form no idea of the serious interest taken in this affair
by Venetian society.
Vendramini alone knew Emilio's secret, which was carefully kept
between two men who had, for private pleasure, combined their coats of
arms with the motto Non amici, frates.
The opening night of the opera season is an event at Venice, as in
every capital in Italy. The Fenice was crowded.
The five hours of the night that are spent at the theatre fill so
important a place in Italian life that it is well to give an account
of the customs that have risen from this manner of spending time.
The boxes in Italy are unlike those of any other country, inasmuch as
that elsewhere the women go to be seen, and that Italian ladies do not
care to make a show of themselves. Each box is long and narrow,
sloping at an angle to the front and to the passage behind. On each
side is a sofa, and at the end stand two armchairs, one for the
mistress of the box, and the other for a lady friend when she brings
one, which she rarely does. Each lady is in fact too much engaged in
her own box to call on others, or to wish to see them; also no one
cares to introduce a rival. An Italian woman almost always reigns
alone in her box; the mothers are not the slaves of their daughters,
the daughters have no mother on their hands; thus there are no
children, no relations to watch and censure and bore, or cut into a
In front every box is draped in the same way, with the same silk: from
the cornice hang curtains, also all to match; and these remain drawn
when the family to whom the box belongs is in mourning. With very few
exceptions, and those only at Milan, there is no light inside the box;
they are illuminated only from the stage, and from a not very
brilliant hanging lustre which, in spite of protests, has been
introduced into the house in some towns; still, screened by the
curtains, they are never very light, and their arrangement leaves the
back of the box so dark that it is very difficult to see what is going
The boxes, large enough to accommodate eight or ten persons, are
decorated with handsome silks, the ceilings are painted and ornamented
in light and pleasing colors; the woodwork is gilt. Ices and sorbets
are served there, and sweetmeats; for only the plebeian classes ever
have a serious meal. Each box is freehold property, and of
considerable value; some are estimated at as much as thirty thousand
lire; the Litta family at Milan own three adjoining. These facts
sufficiently indicate the importance attributed to this incident of
Conversation reigns supreme in this little apartment, which Stendhal,
one of the most ingenious of modern writers, and a keen student of
Italian manners, has called a boudoir with a window opening on to a
pit. The music and the spectacle are in fact purely accessory; the
real interest of the evening is in the social meeting there, the all-
important trivialities of love that are discussed, the assignations
held, the anecdotes and gossip that creep in. The theatre is an
inexpensive meeting-place for a whole society which is content and
amused with studying itself.
The men who are admitted take their seats on one of the sofas, in the
order of their arrival. The first comer naturally is next to the
mistress of the box, but when both seats are full, if another visitor
comes in, the one who has sat longest rises, takes his leave and
departs. All move up one place, and so each in turn is next the
This futile gossip, or serious colloquy, these elegant trivialities of
Italian life, inevitably imply some general intimacy. The lady may be
in full dress or not, as she pleases. She is so completely at home
that a stranger who has been received in her box may call on her next
day at her residence. The foreign visitor cannot at first understand
this life of idle wit, this dolce far niente on a background of
music. Only long custom and keen observation can ever reveal to a
foreigner the meaning of Italian life, which is like the free sky of
the south, and where a rich man will not endure a cloud. A man of rank
cares little about the management of his fortune; he leaves the
details to his stewards (ragionati), who rob and ruin him. He has no
instinct for politics, and they would presently bore him; he lives
exclusively for passion, which fills up all his time; hence the
necessity felt by the lady and her lover for being constantly
together; for the great feature of such a life is the lover, who for
five hours is kept under the eye of a woman who has had him at her
feet all day. Thus Italian habits allow of perpetual satisfaction, and
necessitate a constant study of the means fitted to insure it, though
hidden under apparent light-heartedness.
It is a beautiful life, but a reckless one, and in no country in the
world are men so often found worn out.
The Duchess' box was on the pit tier--pepiano, as it is called in
Venice; she always sat where the light from the stage fell on her
face, so that her handsome head, softly illuminated, stood out against
the dark background. The Florentine attracted every gaze by her broad,
high brow, as white as snow, crowned with plaits of black hair that
gave her a really royal look; by the refinement of her features,
resembling the noble features of Andrea del Sarto's heads; by the
outline of her face, the setting of her eyes; and by those velvet eyes
themselves, which spoke of the rapture of a woman dreaming of
happiness, still pure though loving, at once attractive and dignified.
Instead of Mose, in which la Tinti was to have appeared with
Genovese, Il Barbiere was given, and the tenor was to sing without
the celebrated prima donna. The manager announced that he had been
obliged to change the opera in consequence of la Tinti's being ill;
and the Duke was not to be seen in the theatre.
Was this a clever trick on the part of the management, to secure two
full houses by bringing out Genovese and Tinti separately, or was
Clarina's indisposition genuine? While this was open to discussion by
others, Emilio might be better informed; and though the announcement
caused him some remorse, as he remembered the singer's beauty and
vehemence, her absence and the Duke's put both the Prince and the
Duchess very much at their ease.
And Genovese sang in such a way as to drive out all memories of a
night of illicit love, and to prolong the heavenly joys of this
blissful day. Happy to be alone to receive the applause of the house,
the tenor did his best with the powers which have since achieved
European fame. Genovese, then but three-and-twenty, born at Bergamo, a
pupil of Veluti's and devoted to his art, a fine man, good-looking,
clever in apprehending the spirit of a part, was already developing
into the great artist destined to win fame and fortune. He had a wild
success,--a phrase which is literally exact only in Italy, where the
applause of the house is absolutely frenzied when a singer procures it
Some of the Prince's friends came to congratulate him on coming into
his title, and to discuss the news. Only last evening la Tinti, taken
by the Duke to the Vulpatos', had sung there, apparently in health as
sound as her voice was fine; hence her sudden disposition gave rise to
much comment. It was rumored at the Cafe Florian that Genovese was
desperately in love with Clarina; that she was only anxious to avoid
his declarations, and that the manager had tried in vain to induce her
to appear with him. The Austrian General, on the other hand, asserted
that it was the Duke who was ill, that the prima donna was nursing
him, and that Genovese had been commanded to make amends to the
The Duchess owed this visit from the Austrian General to the fact that
a French physician had come to Venice whom the General wished to
introduce to her. The Prince, seeing Vendramin wandering about the
parterre, went out for a few minutes of confidential talk with his
friend, whom he had not seen for three months; and as they walked
round the gangway which divides the seats in the pit from the lowest
tier of boxes, he had an opportunity of observing Massimilla's
reception of the foreigner.
"Who is that Frenchman?" asked the Prince.
"A physician sent for by Cataneo, who wants to know how long he is
likely to live," said Vendramin. "The Frenchman is waiting for
Malfatti, with whom he is to hold a consultation."
Like every Italian woman who is in love, the Duchess kept her eyes
fixed on Emilio; for in that land a woman is so wholly wrapped up in
her lover that it is difficult to detect an expressive glance directed
at anybody else.
"Caro," said the Prince to his friend, "remember I slept at your house
"Have you triumphed?" said Vendramin, putting his arm round Emilio's
"No; but I hope I may some day be happy with Massimilla."
"Well," replied Marco, "then you will be the most envied man on earth.
The Duchess is the most perfect woman in Italy. To me, seeing things
as I do through the dazzling medium of opium, she seems the very
highest expression of art; for nature, without knowing it, has made
her a Raphael picture. Your passion gives no umbrage to Cataneo, who
has handed over to me a thousand crowns, which I am to give to you."
"Well," added Emilio, "whatever you may hear said, I sleep every night
at your house. Come, for every minute spent away from her, when I
might be with her, is torment."
Emilio took his seat at the back of the box and remained there in
silence, listening to the Duchess, enchanted by her wit and beauty. It
was for him, and not out of vanity, that Massimilla lavished the
charms of her conversation bright with Italian wit, in which sarcasm
lashed things but not persons, laughter attacked nothing that was not
laughable, mere trifles were seasoned with Attic salt.
Anywhere else she might have been tiresome. The Italians, an eminently
intelligent race, have no fancy for displaying their talents where
they are not in demand; their chat is perfectly simple and effortless,
it never makes play, as in France, under the lead of a fencing master,
each one flourishing his foil, or, if he has nothing to say, sitting
Conversation sparkles with a delicate and subtle satire that plays
gracefully with familiar facts; and instead of a compromising epigram
an Italian has a glance or a smile of unutterable meaning. They think
--and they are right--that to be expected to understand ideas when
they only seek enjoyment, is a bore.
Indeed, la Vulpato had said to Massimilla:
"If you loved him you would not talk so well."
Emilio took no part in the conversation; he listened and gazed. This
reserve might have led foreigners to suppose that the Prince was a man
of no intelligence,--their impression very commonly of an Italian in
love,--whereas he was simply a lover up to his ears in rapture.
Vendramin sat down by Emilio, opposite the Frenchman, who, as the
stranger, occupied the corner facing the Duchess.
"Is that gentleman drunk?" said the physician in an undertone to
Massimilla, after looking at Vendramin.
"Yes," replied she, simply.
In that land of passion, each passion bears its excuse in itself, and
gracious indulgence is shown to every form of error. The Duchess
sighed deeply, and an expression of suppressed pain passed over her
"You will see strange things in our country, monsieur," she went on.
"Vendramin lives on opium, as this one lives on love, and that one
buries himself in learning; most young men have a passion for a
dancer, as older men are miserly. We all create some happiness or some
madness for ourselves."
"Because you all want to divert your minds from some fixed idea, for
which a revolution would be a radical cure," replied the physician.
"The Genoese regrets his republic, the Milanese pines for his
independence, the Piemontese longs for a constitutional government,
the Romagna cries for liberty--"
"Of which it knows nothing," interrupted the Duchess. "Alas! there are
men in Italy so stupid as to long for your idiotic Charter, which
destroys the influence of woman. Most of my fellow-countrywomen must
need read your French books--useless rhodomontade--"
"Useless!" cried the Frenchman.
"Why, monsieur," the Duchess went on, "what can you find in a book
that is better than what we have in our hearts? Italy is mad."
"I cannot see that a people is mad because it wishes to be its own
master," said the physician.
"Good Heavens!" exclaimed the Duchess, eagerly, "does not that mean
paying with a great deal of bloodshed for the right of quarreling, as
you do, over crazy ideas?"
"Then you approve of despotism?" said the physician.
"Why should I not approve of a system of government which, by
depriving us of books and odious politics, leaves men entirely to us?"
"I had thought that the Italians were more patriotic," said the
Massimilla laughed so slyly that her interlocutor could not
distinguish mockery from serious meaning, nor her real opinion from
"Then you are not a liberal?" said he.
"Heaven preserve me!" said she. "I can imagine nothing in worse taste
than such opinions in a woman. Could you love a woman whose heart was
occupied by all mankind?"
"Those who love are naturally aristocrats," the Austrian General
observed, with a smile.
"As I came into the theatre," the Frenchman observed, "you were the
first person I saw; and I remarked to his Excellency that if there was
a woman who could personify a nation it was you. But I grieve to
discover that, though you represent its divine beauty, you have not
the constitutional spirit."
"Are you not bound," said the Duchess, pointing to the ballet now
being danced, "to find all our dancers detestable and our singers
atrocious? Paris and London rob us of all our leading stars. Paris
passes judgment on them, and London pays them. Genovese and la Tinti
will not be left to us for six months--"
At this juncture, the Austrian left the box. Vendramin, the Prince,
and the other two Italians exchanged a look and a smile, glancing at
the French physician. He, for a moment, felt doubtful of himself,--a
rare thing in a Frenchman,--fancying he had said or done something
incongruous; but the riddle was immediately solved.
"Do you thing it would be judicious," said Emilio, "if we spoke our
mind in the presence of our masters?"
"You are in a land of slaves," said the Duchess, in a tone and with a
droop of the head which gave her at once the look for which the
physician had sought in vain. "Vendramin," she went on, speaking so
that only the stranger could hear her, "took to smoking opium, a
villainous idea suggested to him by an Englishman who, for other
reasons of his, craved an easy death--not death as men see it in the
form of a skeleton, but death draped with the frippery you in France
call a flag--a maiden form crowned with flowers or laurels; she
appears in a cloud of gunpowder borne on the flight of a cannon-ball--
or else stretched on a bed between two courtesans; or again, she rises
in the steam of a bowl of punch, or the dazzling vapor of a diamond--
but a diamond in the form of carbon.
"Whenever Vendramin chooses, for three Austrian lire, he can be a
Venetian Captain, he can sail in the galleys of the Republic, and
conquer the gilded domes of Constantinople. Then he can lounge on the
divans in the Seraglio among the Sultan's wives, while the Grand
Signor himself is the slave of the Venetian conqueror. He returns to
restore his palazzo with the spoils of the Ottoman Empire. He can quit
the women of the East for the doubly masked intrigues of his beloved
Venetians, and fancy that he dreads the jealousy which has ceased to
"For three zwanziger he can transport himself into the Council of Ten,
can wield there terrible power, and leave the Doges' Palace to sleep
under the watch of a pair of flashing eyes, or to climb a balcony from
which a fair hand has hung a silken ladder. He can love a woman to
whom opium lends such poetic grace as we women of flesh and blood
could never show.
"Presently he turns over, and he is face to face with the dreadful
frown of the senator, who holds a dagger. He hears the blade plunged
into his mistress' heart. She dies smiling on him; for she has saved
"And she is a happy woman!" added the Duchess, looking at Emilio.
"He escapes and flies to command the Dalmatians, to conquer the
Illyrian coast for his beloved Venice. His glory wins him forgiveness,
and he enjoys a life of domestic happiness,--a home, a winter evening,
a young wife and charming children, who pray to San Marco under the
care of an old nurse. Yes, for three francs' worth of opium he
furnishes our empty arsenal, he watches convoys of merchandise coming
in, going to the four quarters of the world. The forces of modern
industry no longer reign in London, but in his own Venice, where the
hanging gardens of Semiramis, the Temple of Jerusalem, the marvels of
Rome, live once more. He adds to the glories of the middle ages by the
labors of steam, by new masterpieces of art under the protection of
Venice, who protected it of old. Monuments and nations crowd into his
little brain; there is room for them all. Empires and cities and
revolutions come and vanish in the course of a few hours, while Venice
alone expands and lives; for the Venice of his dreams is the empress
of the seas. She has two millions of inhabitants, the sceptre of
Italy, the mastery of the Mediterranean and the Indies!"
"What an opera is the brain of man! What an unfathomed abyss!--even to
those who, like Gall, have mapped it out," cried the physician.
"Dear Duchess," said Vendramin, "do not omit the last service that my
elixir will do me. After hearing ravishing voices and imbibing music
through every pore, after experiencing the keenest pleasures and the
fiercest delights of Mahomet's paradise, I see none but the most
terrible images. I have visions of my beloved Venice full of
children's faces, distorted, like those of the dying; of women covered
with dreadful wounds, torn and wailing; of men mangled and crushed by
the copper sides of crashing vessels. I begin to see Venice as she is,
shrouded in crape, stripped, robbed, destitute. Pale phantoms wander
through her streets!
"Already the Austrian soldiers are grinning over me, already my
visionary life is drifting into real life; whereas six months ago real
life was the bad dream, and the life of opium held love and bliss,
important affairs and political interests. Alas! To my grief, I see
the dawn over my tomb, where truth and falsehood mingle in a dubious
light, which is neither day nor darkness, but partakes of both."
"So you see that in this head there is too much patriotism," said the
Prince, laying his hand on the thick black curls that fell on
"Oh, if he loves us he will give up his dreadful opium!" said
"I will cure your friend," said the Frenchman.
"Achieve that, and we shall love you," said the Duchess. "But if on
your return to France you do not calumniate us, we shall love you even
better. The hapless Italians are too much crushed by foreign dominion
to be fairly judged--for we have known yours," she added, with a
"It was more generous than Austria's," said the physician, eagerly.
"Austria squeezes and gives us nothing back, and you squeeze to
enlarge and beautify our towns; you stimulated us by giving us an
army. You thought you could keep Italy, and they expect to lose it--
there lies the difference.
"The Austrians provide us with a sort of ease that is as stultifying
and heavy as themselves, while you overwhelmed us by your devouring
energy. But whether we die of tonics or of narcotics, what does it
matter? It is death all the same, Monsieur le docteur."
"Unhappy Italy! In my eyes she is like a beautiful woman whom France
ought to protect by making her his mistress," exclaimed the Frenchman.
"But you could not love us as we wish to be loved," said the Duchess,
smiling. "We want to be free. But the liberty I crave is not your
ignoble and middle-class liberalism, which would kill all art. I ask,"
said she, in a tone that thrilled through the box,--"that is to say, I
would ask,--that each Italian republic should be resuscitated, with
its nobles, its citizens, its special privileges for each caste. I
would have the old aristocratic republics once more with their
intestine warfare and rivalry that gave birth to the noblest works of
art, that created politics, that raised up the great princely houses.
By extending the action of one government over a vast expanse of
country it is frittered down. The Italian republics were the glory of
Europe in the middle ages. Why has Italy succumbed when the Swiss, who
were her porters, have triumphed?"
"The Swiss republics," said the doctor, "were worthy housewives, busy
with their own little concerns, and neither having any cause for
envying another. Your republics were haughty queens, preferring to
sell themselves rather than bow to a neighbor; they fell too low ever
to rise again. The Guelphs are triumphant."
"Do not pity us too much," said the Duchess, in a voice that made the
two friends start. "We are still supreme. Even in the depths of her
misfortune Italy governs through the choicer spirits that abound in
"Unfortunately the greater number of her geniuses learn to understand
life so quickly that they lie sunk in poverty-stricken pleasure. As
for those who are willing to play the melancholy game for immortality,
they know how to get at your gold and to secure your praises. Ay, in
this land--pitied for its fallen state by traveled simpletons and
hypocritical poets, while its character is traduced by politicians--in
this land, which appears so languid, powerless, and ruinous, worn out
rather than old, there are puissant brains in every branch of life,
genius throwing out vigorous shoots as an old vine-stock throws out
canes productive of delicious fruit. This race of ancient rulers still
gives birth to kings--Lagrange, Volta, Rasori, Canova, Rossini,
Bartolini, Galvani, Vigano, Beccaria, Cicognara, Corvetto. These
Italians are masters of the scientific peaks on which they stand, or
of the arts to which they devote themselves. To say nothing of the
singers and executants who captivate Europe by their amazing
perfections: Taglioni, Paganini, and the rest. Italy still rules the
world which will always come to worship her.
"Go to Florian's to-night; you will find in Capraja one of our
cleverest men, but in love with obscurity. No one but the Duke, my
master, understands music so thoroughly as he does; indeed he is known
here as il Fanatico."
After sitting a few minutes listening to the eager war of words
between the physician and the Duchess, who showed much ingenious
eloquence, the Italians, one by one, took leave, and went off to tell
the news in every box, that la Cataneo, who was regarded as a woman of
great wit and spirit, had, on the question of Italy, defeated a famous
French doctor. This was the talk of the evening.
As soon as the Frenchman found himself alone with the Duchess and the
Prince, he understood that they were to be left together, and took
leave. Massimilla bowed with a bend of the neck that placed him at
such a distance that this salute might have secured her the man's
hatred, if he could have ignored the charm of her eloquence and
Thus at the end of the opera, Emilio and Massimilla were alone, and
holding hands they listened together to the duet that finishes Il
"There is nothing but music to express love," said the Duchess, moved
by that song as of two rapturous nightingales.
A tear twinkled in Emilio's eye; Massimilla, sublime in such beauty as
beams in Raphael's Saint-Cecilia, pressed his hand, their knees
touched, there was, as it seemed, the blossom of a kiss on her lips.
The Prince saw on her blushing face a glow of joy like that which on a
summer's day shines down on the golden harvest; his heart seemed
bursting with the tide of blood that rushed to it. He fancied that he
could hear an angelic chorus of voices, and he would have given his
life to feel the fire of passion which at this hour last night had
filled him for the odious Clarina; but he was at the moment hardly
conscious of having a body.
Massimilla, much distressed, ascribed this tear, in her guilelessness,
to the remark she had made as to Genovese's cavatina.
"But, carino," said she in Emilio's ear, "are not you as far better
than every expression of love, as cause is superior to effect?"
After handing the Duchess to her gondola, Emilio waited for Vendramin
to go to Florian's.
The Cafe Florian at Venice is a quite undefinable institution.
Merchants transact their business there, and lawyers meet to talk over
their most difficult cases. Florian's is at once an Exchange, a green-
room, a newspaper office, a club, a confessional,--and it is so well
adapted to the needs of the place that some Venetian women never know
what their husband's business may be, for, if they have a letter to
write, they go to write it there.
Spies, of course, abound at Florian's; but their presence only
sharpens Venetian wits, which may here exercise the discretion once so
famous. A great many persons spend the whole day at Florian's; in
fact, to some men Florian's is so much a matter of necessity, that
between the acts of an opera they leave the ladies in their boxes and
take a turn to hear what is going on there.
While the two friends were walking in the narrow streets of the
Merceria they did not speak, for there were too many people; but as
they turned into the Piazzi di San Marco, the Prince said:
"Do not go at once to the cafe. Let us walk about; I want to talk to
He related his adventure with Clarina and explained his position. To
Vendramin Emilio's despair seemed so nearly allied to madness that he
promised to cure him completely if only he would give him carte
blanche to deal with Massimilla. This ray of hope came just in time
to save Emilio from drowning himself that night; for, indeed, as he
remembered the singer, he felt a horrible wish to go back to her.
The two friends then went to an inner room at Florian's, where they
listened to the conversation of some of the superior men of the town,
who discoursed the subjects of the day. The most interesting of these
were, in the first place, the eccentricities of Lord Byron, of whom
the Venetians made great sport; then Cataneo's attachment for la
Tinti, for which no reason could be assigned after twenty different
causes had been suggested; then Genovese's debut; finally, the tilting
match between the Duchess and the French doctor. Just as the
discussion became vehemently musical, Duke Cataneo made his
appearance. He bowed very courteously to Emilio, which seemed so
natural that no one noticed it, and Emilio bowed gravely in return.
Cataneo looked round to see if there was anybody he knew, recognized
Vendramin and greeted him, bowed to his banker, a rich patrician, and
finally to the man who happened to be speaking,--a celebrated musical
fanatic, a friend of the Comtesse Albrizzi. Like some others who
frequented Florian's, his mode of life was absolutely unknown, so
carefully did he conceal it. Nothing was known about him but what he
chose to tell.
This was Capraja, the nobleman whom the Duchess had mentioned to the
French doctor. This Venetian was one of a class of dreamers whose
powerful minds divine everything. He was an eccentric theorist, and
cared no more for celebrity than for a broken pipe.
His life was in accordance with his ideas. Capraja made his appearance
at about ten every morning under the Procuratie, without anyone
knowing whence he came. He lounged about Venice, smoking cigars. He
regularly went to the Fenice, sitting in the pit-stalls, and between
the acts went round to Florian's, where he took three or four cups of
coffee a day; and he ended the evening at the cafe, never leaving it
till about two in the morning. Twelve hundred francs a year paid all
his expenses; he ate but one meal a day at an eating-house in the
Merceria, where the cook had his dinner ready for him at a fixed hour,
on a little table at the back of the shop; the pastry-cook's daughter
herself prepared his stuffed oysters, provided him with cigars, and
took care of his money. By his advice, this girl, though she was very
handsome, would never countenance a lover, lived very steadily, and
still wore the old Venetian costume. This purely-bred Venetian girl
was twelve years old when Capraja first took an interest in her, and
six-and-twenty when he died. She was very fond of him, though he had
never even kissed her hand or her brow, and she knew nothing whatever
of the poor old nobleman's intentions with regard to her. The girl had
at last as complete control of the old gentleman as a mother has of
her child; she would tell him when he wanted clean linen; next day he
would come without a shirt, and she would give him a clean one to put
on in the morning.
He never looked at a woman either in the theatre or out walking.
Though he was the descendant of an old patrician family he never
thought his rank worth mentioning. But at night, after twelve, he
awoke from his apathy, talked, and showed that he had seen and heard
everything. This peaceful Diogenes, quite incapable of explaining his
tenets, half a Turk, half a Venetian, was thick-set, short, and fat;
he had a Doge's sharp nose, an inquisitive, satirical eye, and a
discreet though smiling mouth.
When he died, it became known that he had lived in a little den near
San Benedetto. He had two million francs invested in the funds of
various countries of Europe, and had left the interest untouched ever
since he had first bought the securities in 1814, so the sum was now
enormous, alike from the increased value of the capital and the
accumulated interest. All this money was left to the pastry-cook's
"Genovese," he was saying, "will do wonders. Whether he really
understands the great end of music, or acts only on instinct, I know
not; but he is the first singer who ever satisfied me. I shall not die
without hearing a cadenza executed as I have heard them in my
dreams, waking with a feeling as though the sounds were floating in
the air. The clear cadenza is the highest achievement of art; it is
the arabesque, decorating the finest room in the house; a shade too
little and it is nothing, a touch too much and all is confusion. Its
task is to awake in the soul a thousand dormant ideas; it flies up and
sweeps through space, scattering seeds in the air to be taken in by
our ears and blossom in our heart. Believe me, in painting his Saint-
Cecilia, Raphael gave the preference to music over poetry. And he was
right; music appeals to the heart, whereas writing is addressed to the
intellect; it communicates ideas directly, like a perfume. The
singer's voice impinges not on the mind, not on the memory of
happiness, but on the first principle of thought; it stirs the
elements of sensation.
"It is a grievous thing that the populace should have compelled
musicians to adapt their expression to words, to factitious emotions;
but then they were not otherwise intelligible to the vulgar. Thus the
cadenza is the only thing left to the lovers of pure music, the
devotees of unfettered art. To-night, as I listened to that last
cavatina, I felt as if I were beckoned by a fair creature whose look
alone had made me young again. The enchantress placed a crown on my
brow, and led me to the ivory door through which we pass to the
mysterious land of day-dreams. I owe it to Genovese that I escaped for
a few minutes from this old husk--minutes, short no doubt by the
clock, but very long by the record of sensation. For a brief spring-
time, scented with roses, I was young again--and beloved!"
"But you are mistaken, caro Capraja," said the Duke. "There is in
music an effect yet more magical than that of the cadenza."
"What is that?" asked Capraja.
"The unison of two voices, or of a voice and a violin,--the instrument
which has tones most nearly resembling those of the human voice,"
replied Cataneo. "This perfect concord bears us on to the very heart
of life, on the tide of elements which can resuscitate rapture and
carry man up to the centre of the luminous sphere where his mind can
command the whole universe. You still need a thema, Capraja, but the
pure element is enough for me. You need that the current should flow
through the myriad canals of the machine to fall in dazzling cascades,
while I am content with the pure tranquil pool. My eye gazes across a
lake without a ripple. I can embrace the infinite."
"Speak no more, Cataneo," said Capraja, haughtily. "What! Do you fail
to see the fairy, who, in her swift rush through the sparkling
atmosphere, collects and binds with the golden thread of harmony, the
gems of melody she smilingly sheds on us? Have you ever felt the touch
of her wand, as she says to Curiosity, 'Awake!' The divinity rises up
radiant from the depths of the brain; she flies to her store of
wonders and fingers them lightly as an organist touches the keys.
Suddenly, up starts Memory, bringing us the roses of the past,
divinely preserved and still fresh. The mistress of our youth revives,
and strokes the young man's hair. Our heart, too full, overflows; we
see the flowery banks of the torrent of love. Every burning bush we
ever knew blazes afresh, and repeats the heavenly words we once heard
and understood. The voice rolls on; it embraces in its rapid turns
those fugitive horizons, and they shrink away; they vanish, eclipsed
by newer and deeper joys--those of an unrevealed future, to which the
fairy points as she returns to the blue heaven."
"And you," retorted Cataneo, "have you never seen the direct ray of a
star opening the vistas above; have you never mounted on that beam
which guides you to the sky, to the heart of the first causes which
move the worlds?"
To their hearers, the Duke and Capraja were playing a game of which
the premises were unknown.
"Genovese's voice thrills through every fibre," said Capraja.
"And la Tinti's fires the blood," replied the Duke.
"What a paraphrase of happy love is that cavatina!" Capraja went on.
"Ah! Rossini was young when he wrote that interpretation of
effervescent ecstasy. My heart filled with renewed blood, a thousand
cravings tingled in my veins. Never have sounds more angelic delivered
me more completely from my earthly bonds! Never did the fairy wave
more beautiful arms, smile more invitingly, lift her tunic more
cunningly to display an ankle, raising the curtain that hides my other
"To-morrow, my old friend," replied Cataneo, "you shall ride on the
back of a dazzling, white swan, who will show you the loveliest land
there is; you shall see the spring-time as children see it. Your heart
shall open to the radiance of a new sun; you shall sleep on crimson
silk, under the gaze of a Madonna; you shall feel like a happy lover
gently kissed by a nymph whose bare feet you still may see, but who is
about to vanish. That swan will be the voice of Genovese, if he can
unite it to its Leda, the voice of Clarina. To-morrow night we are to
hear Mose, the grandest opera produced by Italy's greatest genius."
All present left the conversation to the Duke and Capraja, not wishing
to be the victims of mystification. Only Vendramin and the French
doctor listened to them for a few minutes. The opium-smoker understood
these poetic flights; he had the key of the palace where those two
sensuous imaginations were wandering. The doctor, too, tried to
understand, and he understood, for he was one of the Pleiades of
genius belonging to the Paris school of medicine, from which a true
physician comes out as much a metaphysician as an accomplished
"Do you understand them?" said Emilio to Vendramin as they left the
cafe at two in the morning.
"Yes, my dear boy," said Vendramin, taking Emilio home with him.
"Those two men are of the legion of unearthly spirits to whom it is
given here below to escape from the wrappings of the flesh, who can
fly on the shoulders of the queen of witchcraft up to the blue
empyrean where the sublime marvels are wrought of the intellectual
life; they, by the power of art, can soar whither your immense love
carries you, whither opium transports me. Then none can understand
them but those who are like them.
"I, who can inspire my soul by such base means, who can pack a hundred
years of life into a single night, I can understand those lofty
spirits when they talk of that glorious land, deemed a realm of
chimeras by some who think themselves wise; but the realm of reality
to us whom they think mad. Well, the Duke and Capraja, who were
acquainted at Naples,--where Cataneo was born,--are mad about music."
"But what is that strange system that Capraja was eager to explain to
the Duke? Did you understand?"
"Yes," replied Vendramin. "Capraja's great friend is a musician from
Cremona, lodging in the Capello palace, who has a theory that sounds
meet with an element in man, analogous to that which produces ideas.
According to him, man has within him keys acted on by sound, and
corresponding to his nerve-centres, where ideas and sensations take
their rise. Capraja, who regards the arts as an assemblage of means by
which he can harmonize, in himself, all external nature with another
mysterious nature that he calls the inner life, shares all ideas of
this instrument-maker, who at this moment is composing an opera.
"Conceive of a sublime creation, wherein the marvels of the visible
universe are reproduced with immeasurable grandeur, lightness,
swiftness, and extension; wherein sensation is infinite, and whither
certain privileged natures, possessed of divine powers, are able to
penetrate, and you will have some notion of the ecstatic joys of which
Cataneo and Capraja were speaking; both poets, each for himself alone.
Only, in matters of the intellect, as soon as a man can rise above the
sphere where plastic art is produced by a process of imitation, and
enter into that transcendental sphere of abstractions where everything
is understood as an elementary principle, and seen in the omnipotence
of results, that man is no longer intelligible to ordinary minds."
"You have thus explained my love for Massimilla," said Emilio. "There
is in me, my friend, a force which awakes under the fire of her look,
at her lightest touch, and wafts me to a world of light where effects
are produced of which I dare not speak. It has seemed to me often that
the delicate tissue of her skin has stamped flowers on mine as her
hand lies on my hand. Her words play on those inner keys in me, of
which you spoke. Desire excites my brain, stirring that invisible
world, instead of exciting my passive flesh; the air seems red and
sparkling, unknown perfumes of indescribable strength relax my sinews,
roses wreathe my temples, and I feel as though my blood were escaping
through opened arteries, so complete is my inanition."
"That is the effect on me of smoking opium," replied Vendramin.
"Then do you wish to die?" cried Emilio, in alarm.
"With Venice!" said Vendramin, waving his hand in the direction of San
Marco. "Can you see a single pinnacle or spire that stands straight?
Do you not perceive that the sea is claiming its prey?"
The Prince bent his head; he dared no more speak to his friend of
To know what a free country means, you must have traveled in a
When they reached the Palazzo Vendramin, they saw a gondola moored at
the water-gate. The Prince put his arm round Vendramin and clasped him
"Good-night to you, my dear fellow!"
"What! a woman? for me, whose only love is Venice?" exclaimed Marco.
At this instant the gondolier, who was leaning against a column,
recognizing the man he was to look out for, murmured in Emilio's ear:
"The Duchess, monseigneur."
Emilio sprang into the gondola, where he was seized in a pair of soft
arms--an embrace of iron--and dragged down on to the cushions, where
he felt the heaving bosom of an ardent woman. And then he was no more
Emilio, but Clarina's lover; for his ideas and feelings were so
bewildering that he yielded as if stupefied by her first kiss.
"Forgive this trick, my beloved," said the Sicilian. "I shall die if
you do not come with me."
And the gondola flew over the secret water.
At half-past seven on the following evening, the spectators were again
in their places in the theatre, excepting that those in the pit always
took their chances of where they might sit. Old Capraja was in
Before the overture the Duke paid a call on the Duchess; he made a
point of standing behind her and leaving the front seat to Emilio next
the Duchess. He made a few trivial remarks, without sarcasm or
bitterness, and with as polite a manner as if he were visiting a
But in spite of his efforts to seem amiable and natural, the Prince
could not control his expression, which was deeply anxious. Bystanders
would have ascribed such a change in his usually placid features to
jealousy. The Duchess no doubt shared Emilio's feelings; she looked
gloomy and was evidently depressed. The Duke, uncomfortable enough
between two sulky people, took advantage of the French doctor's
entrance to slip away.
"Monsieur," said Cataneo to his physician before dropping the curtain
over the entrance to the box, "you will hear to-night a grand musical
poem, not easy of comprehension at a first hearing. But in leaving you
with the Duchess I know that you can have no more competent
interpreter, for she is my pupil."
The doctor, like the Duke, was struck by the expression stamped on the
faces of the lovers, a look of pining despair.
"Then does an Italian opera need a guide to it?" he asked Massimilla,
with a smile.
Recalled by this question to her duties as mistress of the box, the
Duchess tried to chase away the clouds that darkened her brow, and
replied, with eager haste, to open a conversation in which she might
vent her irritation:--
"This is not so much an opera, monsieur," said she, "as an oratorio--a
work which is in fact not unlike a most magnificent edifice, and I
shall with pleasure be your guide. Believe me, it will not be too much
to give all your mind to our great Rossini, for you need to be at once
a poet and a musician to appreciate the whole bearing of such a work.
"You belong to a race whose language and genius are too practical for
it to enter into music without an effort; but France is too
intellectual not to learn to love it and cultivate it, and to succeed
in that as in everything else. Also, it must be acknowledged that
music, as created by Lulli, Rameau, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven,
Cimarosa, Paisiello, and Rossini, and as it will be carried on by the
great geniuses of the future, is a new art, unknown to former
generations; they had indeed no such variety of instruments on which
the flowers of melody now blossom as on some rich soil.
"So novel an art demands study in the public, study of a kind that may
develop the feelings to which music appeals. That sentiment hardly
exists as yet among you--a nation given up to philosophical theories,
to analysis and discussion, and always torn by civil disturbances.
Modern music demands perfect peace; it is the language of loving and
sentimental souls, inclined to lofty emotional aspiration.
"That language, a thousand times fuller than the language of words, is
to speech and ideas what the thought is to its utterance; it arouses
sensations and ideas in their primitive form, in that part of us where
sensations and ideas have their birth, but leaves them as they are in
each of us. That power over our inmost being is one of the grandest
facts in music. All other arts present to the mind a definite
creation; those of music are indefinite--infinite. We are compelled to
accept the ideas of the poet, the painter's picture, the sculptor's
statue; but music each one can interpret at the will of his sorrow or
his gladness, his hope or his despair. While other arts restrict our
mind by fixing it on a predestined object, music frees it to roam over
all nature which it alone has the power of expressing. You shall hear
how I interpret Rossini's Mose."
She leaned across to the Frenchman to speak to him, without being
"Moses is the liberator of an enslaved race!" said she. "Remember
that, and you will see with what religious hope the whole house will
listen to the prayer of the rescued Hebrews, with what a thunder of
applause it will respond!"
As the leader raised his bow, Emilio flung himself into a back seat.
The Duchess pointed out the place he had left, for the physician to
take it. But the Frenchman was far more curious to know what had gone
wrong between the lovers than to enter the halls of music built up by
the man whom all Italy was applauding--for it was the day of Rossini's
triumph in his own country. He was watching the Duchess, and she was
talking with a feverish excitement. She reminded him of the Niobe he
had admired at Florence: the same dignity in woe, the same physical
control; and yet her soul shone though, in the warm flush of her
cheeks; and her eyes, where anxiety was disguised under a flash of
pride, seemed to scorch the tears away by their fire. Her suppressed
grief seemed calmer when she looked at Emilio, who never took his eyes
off her; it was easy to see that she was trying to mollify some fierce
despair. The state of her feelings gave a certain loftiness to her
Like most women when under the stress of some unusual agitation, she
overstepped her ordinary limitations and assumed something of the
Pythoness, though still remaining calm and beautiful; for it was the
form of her thoughts that was wrung with desperation, not the features
of her face. And perhaps she wanted to shine with all her wit to lend
some charm to life and detain her lover from death.
When the orchestra had given out the three chords in C major, placed
at the opening by the composer to announce that the overture will be
sung--for the real overture is the great movement beginning with this
stern attack, and ending only when light appears at the command of
Moses--the Duchess could not control a little spasmodic start, that
showed how entirely the music was in accordance with her concealed
"Those three chords freeze the blood," said she. "They announce
trouble. Listen attentively to this introduction; the terrible lament
of a nation stricken by the hand of God. What wailing! The King, the
Queen, their first-born son, all the dignitaries of the kingdom are
sighing; they are wounded in their pride, in their conquests; checked
in their avarice. Dear Rossini! you have done well to throw this bone
to gnaw to the Tedeschi, who declared we had no harmony, no science!
"Now you will hear the ominous melody the maestro has engrafted on to
this profound harmonic composition, worthy to compare with the most
elaborate structures of the Germans, but never fatiguing or tiresome.
"You French, who carried through such a bloodthirsty revolution, who
crushed your aristocracy under the paw of the lion mob, on the day
when this oratorio is performed in your capital, you will understand
this glorious dirge of the victims on whom God is avenging his chosen
people. None but an Italian could have written this pregnant and
inexhaustible theme--truly Dantesque. Do you think that it is nothing
to have such a dream of vengeance, even for a moment? Handel,
Sebastian Bach, all you old German masters, nay, even you, great
Beethoven, on your knees! Here is the queen of arts, Italy
The Duchess had spoken while the curtain was being raised. And now the
physician heard the sublime symphony with which the composer
introduces the great Biblical drama. It is to express the sufferings
of a whole nation. Suffering is uniform in its expression, especially
physical suffering. Thus, having instinctively felt, like all men of
genius, that here there must be no variety of idea, the musician,
having hit on his leading phrase, has worked it out in various keys,
grouping the masses and the dramatis personae to take up the theme
through modulations and cadences of admirable structure. In such
simplicity is power.
"The effect of this strain, depicting the sensations of night and cold
in a people accustomed to live in the bright rays of the sun, and sung
by the people and their princes, is most impressive. There is
something relentless in that slow phrase of music; it is cold and
sinister, like an iron bar wielded by some celestial executioner, and
dropping in regular rhythm on the limbs of all his victims. As we hear
it passing from C minor into G minor, returning to C and again to the
dominant G, starting afresh and fortissimo on the tonic B flat,
drifting into F major and back to C minor, and in each key in turn
more ominously terrible, chill, and dark, we are compelled at last to
enter into the impression intended by the composer."
The Frenchman was, in fact, deeply moved when all this united sorrow
exploded in the cry:
"O Nume d'Israel,
Se brami in liberta
Il popol tuo fedel,
Di lui di noi pieta!"
(O God of Israel, if thou wouldst see thy faithful people free, have
mercy on them, and on us.)
"Never was a grander synthesis composed of natural effects or a more
perfect idealization of nature. In a great national disaster, each one
for a long time bewails himself alone; then, from out of the mass,
rises up, here and there, a more emphatic and vehement cry of anguish;
finally, when the misery has fallen on all, it bursts forth like a
"As soon as they all recognize a common grievance, the dull murmurs of
the people become cries of impatience. Rossini has proceeded on this
hypothesis. After the outcry in C major, Pharoah sings his grand
recitative: Mano ultrice di un Dio (Avenging hand of God), after
which the original subject is repeated with more vehement expression.
All Egypt appeals to Moses for help."
The Duchess had taken advantage of the pause for the entrance of Moses
and Aaron to give this interpretation of that fine introduction.
"Let them weep!" she added passionately. "They have done much ill.
Expiate your sins, Egyptians, expiate the crimes of your maddened
Court! With what amazing skill has this great painter made use of all
the gloomy tones of music, of all that is saddest on the musical
palette! What creepy darkness! what a mist! Is not your very spirit in
mourning? Are you not convinced of the reality of the blackness that
lies over the land? Do you not feel that Nature is wrapped in the
deepest shades? There are no palm-trees, no Egyptian palaces, no
landscape. And what a healing to your soul will the deeply religious
strain be of the heaven-sent Healer who will stay this cruel plague!
How skilfully is everything wrought up to end in that glorious
invocation of Moses to God.
"By a learned elaboration, which Capraja could explain to you, this
appeal to heaven is accompanied by brass instruments only; it is that
which gives it such a solemn, religious cast. And not merely is the
artifice fine in its place; note how fertile in resource is genius.
Rossini has derived fresh beauty from the difficulty he himself
created. He has the strings in reserve to express daylight when it
succeeds to the darkness, and thus produces one of the greatest
effects ever achieved in music.
"Till this inimitable genius showed the way never was such a result
obtained with mere recitative. We have not, so far, had an air or a
duet. The poet has relied on the strength of the idea, on the
vividness of his imagery, and the realism of the declamatory passages.
This scene of despair, this darkness that may be felt, these cries of
anguish,--the whole musical picture is as fine as your great Poussin's
Moses waved his staff, and it was light.
"Here, monsieur, does not the music vie with the sun, whose splendor
it has borrowed, with nature, whose phenomena it expresses in every
detail?" the Duchess went on, in an undertone. "Art here reaches its
climax; no musician can get beyond this. Do not you hear Egypt waking
up after its long torpor? Joy comes in with the day. In what
composition, ancient or modern, will you find so grand a passage? The
greatest gladness in contrast to the deepest woe! What exclamations!
What gleeful notes! The oppressed spirit breathes again. What delirium
in the tremolo of the orchestra! What a noble tutti! This is the
rejoicing of a delivered nation. Are you not thrilled with joy?"
The physician, startled by the contrast, was, in fact, clapping his
hands, carried away by admiration for one of the finest compositions
of modern music.
"Brava la Doni!" said Vendramin, who had heard the Duchess.
"Now the introduction is ended," said she. "You have gone through a
great sensation," she added, turning to the Frenchman. "Your heart is
beating; in the depths of your imagination you have a splendid
sunrise, flooding with light a whole country that before was cold and
dark. Now, would you know the means by which the musician has worked,
so as to admire him to-morrow for the secrets of his craft after
enjoying the results to-night? What do you suppose produces this
effect of daylight--so sudden, so complicated, and so complete? It
consists of a simple chord of C, constantly reiterated, varied only by
the chord of 4-6. This reveals the magic of his touch. To show you the
glory of light he has worked by the same means that he used to
represent darkness and sorrow.
"This dawn in imagery is, in fact, absolutely the same as the natural
dawn; for light is one and the same thing everywhere, always alike in
itself, the effects varying only with the objects it falls on. Is it
not so? Well, the musician has taken for the fundamental basis of his
music, for its sole motif, a simple chord in C. The sun first sheds
its light on the mountain-tops and then in the valleys. In the same
way the chord is first heard on the treble string of the violins with
boreal mildness; it spreads through the orchestra, it awakes the
instruments one by one, and flows among them. Just as light glides
from one thing to the next, giving them color, the music moves on,
calling out each rill of harmony till all flow together in the
"The violins, silent until now, give the signal with their tender
tremolo, softly agitato like the first rays of morning. That
light, cheerful movement, which caresses the soul, is cleverly
supported by chords in the bass, and by a vague fanfare on the
trumpets, restricted to their lowest notes, so as to give a vivid idea
of the last cool shadows that linger in the valleys while the first
warm rays touch the heights. Then all the wind is gradually added to
strengthen the general harmony. The voices come in with sighs of
delight and surprise. At last the brass breaks out, the trumpets
sound. Light, the source of all harmony, inundates all nature; every
musical resource is produced with a turbulence, a splendor, to compare
with that of the Eastern sun. Even the triangle, with its reiterated
C, reminds us by its shrill accent and playful rhythm of the song of
"Thus the same key, freshly treated by the master's hand, expresses
the joy of all nature, while it soothes the grief it uttered before.
"There is the hall-mark of the great genius: Unity. It is the same but
different. In one and the same phrase we find a thousand various
feelings of woe, the misery of a nation. In one and the same chord we
have all the various incidents of awakening nature, every expression
of the nation's joy. These two tremendous passages are soldered into
one by the prayer to an ever-living God, author of all things, of that
woe and that gladness alike. Now is not that introduction by itself a
"It is, indeed," said the Frenchman.
"Next comes a quintette such as Rossini can give us. If he was ever
justified in giving vent to that flowery, voluptuous grace for which
Italian music is blamed, is it not in this charming movement in which
each person expresses joy? The enslaved people are delivered, and yet
a passion in peril is fain to moan. Pharaoh's son loves a Hebrew
woman, and she must leave him. What gives its ravishing charm to this
quintette is the return to the homelier feelings of life after the
grandiose picture of two stupendous and national emotions:--general
misery, general joy, expressed with the magic force stamped on them by
divine vengeance and with the miraculous atmosphere of the Bible
narrative. Now, was not I right?" added Massimilla, as the noble
sretto came to a close.
"Voci di giubilo,
D' in'orno eccheggino,
Di pace l' Iride
Per noi spunto."
(Cries of joy sound about us. The rainbow of peace dawns upon us.)
"How ingeniously the composer has constructed this passage!" she went
on, after waiting for a reply. "He begins with a solo on the horn, of
divine sweetness, supported by arpeggios on the harps; for the first
voices to be heard in this grand concerted piece are those of Moses
and Aaron returning thanks to the true God. Their strain, soft and
solemn, reverts to the sublime ideas of the invocation, and mingles,
nevertheless, with the joy of the heathen people. This transition
combines the heavenly and the earthly in a way which genius alone
could invent, giving the andante of this quintette a glow of color
that I can only compare to the light thrown by Titian on his Divine
Persons. Did you observe the exquisite interweaving of the voices? the
clever entrances by which the composer has grouped them round the main
idea given out by the orchestra? the learned progressions that prepare
us for the festal allegro? Did you not get a glimpse, as it were, of
dancing groups, the dizzy round of a whole nation escaped from danger?
And when the clarionet gives the signal for the stretto,--'Voci di
giubilo,'--so brilliant and gay, was not your soul filled with the
sacred pyrrhic joy of which David speaks in the Psalms, ascribing it
to the hills?"
"Yes, it would make a delightful dance tune," said the doctor.
"French! French! always French!" exclaimed the Duchess, checked in her
exultant mood by this sharp thrust. "Yes; you would be capable of
taking that wonderful burst of noble and dainty rejoicing and turning
it into a rigadoon. Sublime poetry finds no mercy in your eyes. The
highest genius,--saints, kings, disasters,--all that is most sacred
must pass under the rods of caricature. And the vulgarizing of great
music by turning it into a dance tune is to caricature it. With you,
wit kills soul, as argument kills reason."
They all sat in silence through the recitative of Osiride and
Membrea, who plot to annul the order given by Pharaoh for the
departure of the Hebrews.
"Have I vexed you?" asked the physician to the Duchess. "I should be
in despair. Your words are like a magic wand. They unlock the pigeon-
holes of my brain, and let out new ideas, vivified by this sublime
"No," replied she, "you have praised our great composer after your own
fashion. Rossini will be a success with you, for the sake of his witty
and sensual gifts. Let us hope that he may find some noble souls, in
love with the ideal--which must exist in your fruitful land,--to
appreciate the sublimity, the loftiness, of such music. Ah, now we
have the famous duet, between Elcia and Osiride!" she exclaimed, and
she went on, taking advantage of the triple salvo of applause which
hailed la Tinti, as she made her first appearance on the stage.
"If la Tinti has fully understood the part of Elcia, you will hear the
frenzied song of a woman torn by her love for her people, and her
passion for one of their oppressors, while Osiride, full of mad
adoration for his beautiful vassal, tries to detain her. The opera is
built up as much on that grand idea as on that of Pharaoh's resistance
to the power of God and of liberty; you must enter into it thoroughly
or you will not understand this stupendous work.
"Notwithstanding the disfavor you show to the dramas invented by our
libretto writers, you must allow me to point out the skill with
which this one is constructed. The antithesis required in every fine
work, and eminently favorable to music, is well worked out. What can
be finer than a whole nation demanding liberty, held in bondage by bad
faith, upheld by God, and piling marvel on marvel to gain freedom?
What more dramatic than the Prince's love for a Hebrew woman, almost
justifying treason to the oppressor's power?
"And this is what is expressed in this bold and stupendous musical
poem; Rossini has stamped each nation with its fantastic
individuality, for we have attributed to them a certain historic
grandeur to which every imagination subscribes. The songs of the
Hebrews, and their trust in God, are perpetually contrasted with
Pharaoh's shrieks of rage and vain efforts, represented with a strong
"At this moment Osiride, thinking only of love, hopes to detain his
mistress by the memories of their joys as lovers; he wants to conquer
the attractions of her feeling for her people. Here, then, you will
find delicious languor, the glowing sweetness, the voluptuous
suggestions of Oriental love, in the air 'Ah! se puoi cosi
lasciarmi,' sung by Osiride, and in Elcia's reply, 'Ma perche cosi
straziarmi?' No; two hearts in such melodious unison could never
part," she went on, looking at the Prince.
"But the lovers are suddenly interrupted by the exultant voice of the
Hebrew people in the distance, which recalls Elcia. What a delightful
and inspiriting allegro is the theme of this march, as the
Israelites set out for the desert! No one but Rossini can make wind
instruments and trumpets say so much. And is not the art which can
express in two phrases all that is meant by the 'native land'
certainly nearer to heaven than the others? This clarion-call always
moves me so deeply that I cannot find words to tell you how cruel it
is to an enslaved people to see those who are free march away!"
The Duchess' eyes filled with tears as she listened to the grand
movement, which in fact crowns the opera.
"Dov' e mai quel core amante," she murmured in Italian, as la Tinti
began the delightful aria of the stretto in which she implores
pity for her grief. "But what is the matter? The pit are
"Genovese is braying like a stage," replied the Prince.
In point of fact, this first duet with la Tinti was spoilt by
Genovese's utter breakdown. His excellent method, recalling that of
Crescentini and Veluti, seemed to desert him completely. A sostenuto
in the wrong place, an embellishment carried to excess, spoilt the
effect; or again a loud climax with no due crescendo, an outburst of
sound like water tumbling through a suddenly opened sluice, showed
complete and wilful neglect of the laws of good taste.
The pit was in the greatest excitement. The Venetian public believed
there was a deliberate plot between Genovese and his friends. La Tinti
was recalled and applauded with frenzy while Genovese had a hint or
two warning him of the hostile feeling of the audience. During this
scene, highly amusing to a Frenchman, while la Tinti was recalled
eleven times to receive alone the frantic acclamations of the house,--
Genovese, who was all but hissed, not daring to offer her his hand,--
the doctor made a remark to the Duchess as to the stretto of the
"In this place," said he, "Rossini ought to have expressed the deepest
grief, and I find on the contrary an airy movement, a tone of ill-
"You are right," said she. "This mistake is the result of a tyrannous
custom which composers are expected to obey. He was thinking more of
his prima donna than of Elcia when he wrote that stretto. But this
evening, even if la Tinti had been more brilliant than ever, I could
throw myself so completely into the situation, that the passage,
lively as it is, is to me full of sadness."
The physician looked attentively from the Prince to the Duchess, but
could not guess the reason that held them apart, and that made this
duet seem to them so heartrending.
"Now comes a magnificent thing, the scheming of Pharaoh against the
Hebrews. The great aria 'A rispettarmi apprenda' (Learn to respect
me) is a triumph for Carthagenova, who will express superbly the
offended pride and the duplicity of a sovereign. The Throne will
speak. He will withdraw the concessions that have been made, he arms
himself in wrath. Pharaoh rises to his feet to clutch the prey that is
"Rossini never wrote anything grander in style, or stamped with more
living and irresistible energy. It is a consummate work, supported by
an accompaniment of marvelous orchestration, as indeed is every
portion of this opera. The vigor of youth illumines the smallest
The whole house applauded this noble movement, which was admirably
rendered by the singer, and thoroughly appreciated by the Venetians.
"In the finale," said the Duchess, "you hear a repetition of the
march, expressive of the joy of deliverance and of faith in God, who
allows His people to rush off gleefully to wander in the Desert! What
lungs but would be refreshed by the aspirations of a whole nation
freed from slavery.
"Oh, beloved and living melodies! Glory to the great genius who has
known how to give utterance to such feelings! There is something
essentially warlike in that march, proclaiming that the God of armies
is on the side of these people. How full of feeling are these strains
of thanksgiving! The imagery of the Bible rises up in our mind; this
glorious musical scena enables us to realize one of the grandest
dramas of that ancient and solemn world. The religious form given to
some of the voice parts, and the way in which they come in, one by
one, to group with the others, express all we have ever imagined of
the sacred marvels of that early age of humanity.
"And yet this fine concerted piece is no more than a development of
the theme of the march into all its musical outcome. That theme is the
inspiring element alike for the orchestra and the voices, for the air,
and for the brilliant instrumentation that supports it.
"Elcia now comes to join the crowd; and to give shade to the rejoicing
spirit of this number, Rossini has made her utter her regrets. Listen
to her duettino with Amenofi. Did blighted love ever express itself
in lovelier song? It is full of the grace of a notturno, of the
secret grief of hopeless love. How sad! how sad! The Desert will
indeed be a desert to her!
"After this comes the fierce conflict of the Egyptians and the
Hebrews. All their joy is spoiled, their march stopped by the arrival
of the Egyptians. Pharaoh's edict is proclaimed in a musical phrase,
hollow and dread, which is the leading motif of the finale; we
could fancy that we hear the tramp of the great Egyptian army,
surrounding the sacred phalanx of the true God, curling round it, like
a long African serpent enveloping its prey. But how beautiful is the
lament of the duped and disappointed Hebrews! Though, in truth, it is
more Italian than Hebrew. What a superb passage introduces Pharaoh's
arrival, when his presence brings the two leaders face to face, and
all the moving passions of the drama. The conflict of sentiments in
that sublime ottetto, where the wrath of Moses meets that of the two
Pharaohs, is admirable. What a medley of voices and of unchained
"No grander subject was ever wrought out by a composer. The famous
finale of Don Giovanni, after all, only shows us a libertine at
odds with his victims, who invoke the vengeance of Heaven; while here
earth and its dominions try to defeat God. Two nations are here face
to face. And Rossini, having every means at his command, has made
wonderful use of them. He has succeeded in expressing the turmoil of a
tremendous storm as a background to the most terrible imprecations,
without making it ridiculous. He has achieved it by the use of chords
repeated in triple time--a monotonous rhythm of gloomy musical
emphasis--and so persistent as to be quite overpowering. The horror of
the Egyptians at the torrent of fire, the cries of vengeance from the
Hebrews, needed a delicate balance of masses; so note how he has made
the development of the orchestral parts follow that of the chorus. The
allegro assai in C minor is terrible in the midst of that deluge of
"Confess now," said Massimilla, at the moment when Moses, lifting his
rod, brings down the rain of fire, and when the composer puts forth
all his powers in the orchestra and on the stage, "that no music ever
more perfectly expressed the idea of distress and confusion."
"They have spread to the pit," remarked the Frenchman.
"What is it now? The pit is certainly in great excitement," said the
In the finale, Genovese, his eyes fixed on la Tinti, had launched
into such preposterous flourishes, that the pit, indignant at this
interference with their enjoyment, were at a height of uproar. Nothing
could be more exasperating to Italian ears than this contrast of good
and bad singing. The manager went so far as to appear on the stage, to
say that in reply to his remarks to his leading singer, Signor
Genovese had replied that he knew not how or by what offence he had
lost the countenance of the public, at the very moment when he was
endeavoring to achieve perfection in his art.
"Let him be as bad as he was yesterday--that was good enough for us!"
roared Capraja, in a rage.
This suggestion put the house into a good humor again.
Contrary to Italian custom, the ballet was not much attended to. In
every box the only subject of conversation was Genovese's strange
behavior, and the luckless manager's speech. Those who were admitted
behind the scenes went off at once to inquire into the mystery of this
performance, and it was presently rumored that la Tinti had treated
her colleague Genovese to a dreadful scene, in which she had accused
the tenor of being jealous of her success, of having hindered it by
his ridiculous behavior, and even of trying to spoil her performance
by acting passionate devotion. The lady was shedding bitter tears over
this catastrophe. She had been hoping, she said, to charm her lover,
who was somewhere in the house, though she had failed to discover him.
Without knowing the peaceful course of daily life in Venice at the
present day, so devoid of incident that a slight altercation between
two lovers, or the transient huskiness of a singer's voice becomes a
subject of discussion, regarded of as much importance as politics in
England, it is impossible to conceive of the excitement in the theatre
and at the Cafe Florian. La Tinti was in love; la Tinti had been
hindered in her performance; Genovese was mad or purposely malignant,
inspired by the artist's jealousy so familiar to Italians! What a mine
of matter for eager discussion!
The whole pit was talking as men talk at the Bourse, and the result
was such a clamor as could not fail to amaze a Frenchman accustomed to
the quiet of the Paris theatres. The boxes were in a ferment like the
stir of swarming bees.
One man alone remained passive in the turmoil. Emilio Memmi, with his
back to the stage and his eyes fixed on Massimilla with a melancholy
expression, seemed to live in her gaze; he had not once looked round
at the prima donna.
"I need not ask you, caro carino, what was the result of my
negotiation," said Vendramin to Emilio. "Your pure and pious
Massimilla has been supremely kind--in short, she has been la Tinti?"
The Prince's reply was a shake of his head, full of the deepest
"Your love has not descended from the ethereal spaces where you soar,"
said Vendramin, excited by opium. "It is not yet materialized. This
morning, as every day for six months--you felt flowers opening their
scented cups under the dome of your skull that had expanded to vast
proportions. All your blood moved to your swelling heart that rose to
choke your throat. There, in there,"--and he laid his hand on Emilio's
breast,--"you felt rapturous emotions. Massimilla's voice fell on your
soul in waves of light; her touch released a thousand imprisoned joys
which emerged from the convolutions of your brain to gather about you
in clouds, to waft your etherealized body through the blue air to a
purple glow far above the snowy heights, to where the pure love of
angels dwells. The smile, the kisses of her lips wrapped you in a
poisoned robe which burnt up the last vestiges of your earthly nature.
Her eyes were twin stars that turned you into shadowless light. You
knelt together on the palm-branches of heaven, waiting for the gates
of Paradise to be opened; but they turned heavily on their hinges, and
in your impatience you struck at them, but could not reach them. Your
hand touched nothing but clouds more nimble than your desires. Your
radiant companion, crowned with white roses like a bride of Heaven,
wept at your anguish. Perhaps she was murmuring melodious litanies to
the Virgin, while the demoniacal cravings of the flesh were haunting
you with their shameless clamor, and you disdained the divine fruits
of that ecstasy in which I live, though shortening my life."
"Your exaltation, my dear Vendramin," replied Emilio, calmly, "is
still beneath reality. Who can describe that purely physical
exhaustion in which we are left by the abuse of a dream of pleasure,
leaving the soul still eternally craving, and the spirit in clear
possession of its faculties?
"But I am weary of this torment, which is that of Tantalus. This is my
last night on earth. After one final effort, our Mother shall have her
child again--the Adriatic will silence my last sigh--"
"Are you idiotic?" cried Vendramin. "No; you are mad; for madness, the
crisis we despise, is the memory of an antecedent condition acting on
our present state of being. The genius of my dreams has taught me
that, and much else! You want to make one of the Duchess and la Tinti;
nay, dear Emilio, take them separately; it will be far wiser. Raphael
alone ever united form and idea. You want to be the Raphael of love;
but chance cannot be commanded. Raphael was a 'fluke' of God's
creation, for He foreordained that form and idea should be
antagonistic; otherwise nothing could live. When the first cause is
more potent than the outcome, nothing comes of it. We must live either
on earth or in the skies. Remain in the skies; it is always too soon
to come down to earth."
"I will take the Duchess home," said the Prince, "and make a last
"Afterwards," cried Vendramin, anxiously, "promise to call for me at
This dialogue, in modern Greek, with which Vendramin and Emilio were
familiar, as many Venetians are, was unintelligible to the Duchess and
to the Frenchman. Although he was quite outside the little circle that
held the Duchess, Emilio and Vendramin together--for these three
understood each other by means of Italian glances, by turns arch and
keen, or veiled and sidelong--the physician at last discerned part of
the truth. An earnest entreaty from the Duchess had prompted
Vendramin's suggestion to Emilio, for Massimilla had begun to suspect
the misery endured by her lover in that cold empyrean where he was
wandering, though she had no suspicions of la Tinti.
"These two young men are mad!" said the doctor.
"As to the Prince," said the Duchess, "trust me to cure him. As to
Vendramin, if he cannot understand this sublime music, he is perhaps
"If you would but tell me the cause of their madness, I could cure
them," said the Frenchman.
"And since when have great physicians ceased to read men's minds?"
said she, jestingly.
The ballet was long since ended; the second act of Mose was
beginning. The pit was perfectly attentive. A rumor had got abroad
that Duke Cataneo had lectured Genovese, representing to him what
injury he was doing to Clarina, the diva of the day. The second act
would certainly be magnificent.
"The Egyptian Prince and his father are on the stage," said the
Duchess. "They have yielded once more, though insulting the Hebrews,
but they are trembling with rage. The father congratulates himself on
his son's approaching marriage, and the son is in despair at this
fresh obstacle, though it only increases his love, to which everything
is opposed. Genovese and Carthagenova are singing admirably. As you
see, the tenor is making his peace with the house. How well he brings
out the beauty of the music! The phrase given out by the son on the
tonic, and repeated by the father on the dominant, is all in character
with the simple, serious scheme which prevails throughout the score;
the sobriety of it makes the endless variety of the music all the more
wonderful. All Egypt is there.
"I do not believe that there is in modern music a composition more
perfectly noble. The solemn and majestic paternity of a king is fully
expressed in that magnificent theme, in harmony with the grand style
that stamps the opera throughout. The idea of a Pharaoh's son pouring
out his sorrows on his father's bosom could surely not be more
admirably represented than in this grand imagery. Do you not feel a
sense of the splendor we are wont to attribute to that monarch of
"It is indeed sublime music," said the Frenchman.
"The air Pace mia smarrita, which the Queen will now sing, is one of
those bravura songs which every composer is compelled to introduce,
though they mar the general scheme of the work; but an opera would as
often as not never see the light, if the prima donna's vanity were not
duly flattered. Still, this musical 'sop' is so fine in itself that it
is performed as written, on every stage; it is so brilliant that the
leading lady does not substitute her favorite show piece, as is very
commonly done in operas.
"And now comes the most striking movement in the score: the duet
between Osiride and Elcia in the subterranean chamber where he has
hidden her to keep her from the departing Israelites, and to fly with
her himself from Egypt. The lovers are then intruded on by Aaron, who
has been to warn Amalthea, and we get the grandest of all quartettes:
Mi manca la voce, mi sento morire. This is one of those masterpieces
that will survive in spite of time, that destroyer of fashion in
music, for it speaks the language of the soul which can never change.
Mozart holds his own by the famous finale to Don Giovanni;
Marcello, by his psalm, Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei; Cimarosa, by the
air Pria che spunti; Beethoven by his C minor symphony; Pergolesi,
by his Stabat Mater; Rossini will live by Mi manca la voce. What
is most to be admired in Rossini is his command of variety to form; to
produce the effect here required, he has had recourse to the old
structure of the canon in unison, to bring the voices in, and merge
them in the same melody. As the form of these sublime melodies was
new, he set them in an old frame; and to give it the more relief he
has silenced the orchestra, accompanying the voices with the harps
alone. It is impossible to show greater ingenuity of detail, or to
produce a grander general effect.--Dear me! again an outbreak!" said
Genovese, who had sung his duet with Carthagenova so well, was
caricaturing himself now that la Tinti was on the stage. From a great
singer he sank to the level of the most worthless chorus singer.
The most formidable uproar arose that had ever echoed to the roof of
the Fenice. The commotion only yielded to Clarina, and she, furious
at the difficulties raised by Genovese's obstinacy, sang Mi manca la
voce as it will never be sung again. The enthusiasm was tremendous;
the audience forgot their indignation and rage in pleasure that was
"She floods my soul with purple glow!" said Capraja, waving his hand
in benediction at la Diva Tinti.
"Heaven send all its blessings on your head!" cried a gondolier.
"Pharaoh will now revoke his commands," said the Duchess, while the
commotion in the pit was calming down. "Moses will overwhelm him, even
on his throne, by declaring the death of every first-born son in
Egypt, singing that strain of vengeance which augurs thunders from
heaven, while above it the Hebrew clarions ring out. But you must
clearly understand that this air is by Pacini; Carthagenova introduces
it instead of that by Rossini. This air, Paventa, will no doubt hold
its place in the score; it gives a bass too good an opportunity for
displaying the quality of his voice, and expression here will carry
the day rather than science. However, the air is full of magnificent
menace, and it is possible that we may not be long allowed to hear
A thunder of clapping and bravos hailed the song, followed by deep
and cautious silence; nothing could be more significant or more
thoroughly Venetian than the outbreak and its sudden suppression.
"I need say nothing of the coronation march announcing the
enthronement of Osiride, intended by the King as a challenge to Moses;
to hear it is enough. Their famous Beethoven has written nothing
grander. And this march, full of earthly pomp, contrasts finely with
the march of the Israelites. Compare them, and you will see that the
music is full of purpose.
"Elcia declares her love in the presence of the two Hebrew leaders,
and then renounces it in the fine aria, Porge la destra amata.
(Place your beloved hand.) Ah! What anguish! Only look at the house!"
The pit was shouting bravo, when Genovese left the stage.
"Now, free from her deplorable lover, we shall hear Tinti sing, O
desolata Elcia--the tremendous cavatina expressive of love
disapproved by God."
"Where art thou, Rossini?" cried Cataneo. "If he could but hear the
music created by his genius so magnificently performed," he went on.
"Is not Clarina worthy of him?" he asked Capraja. "To give life to
those notes by such gusts of flame, starting from the lungs and
feeding in the air on some unknown matter which our ears inhale, and
which bears us heavenwards in a rapture of love, she must be divine!"
"She is like the gorgeous Indian plant, which deserting the earth
absorbs invisible nourishment from the atmosphere, and sheds from its
spiral white blossom such fragrant vapors as fill the brain with
dreams," replied Capraja.
On being recalled, la Tinti appeared alone. She was received with a
storm of applause; a thousand kisses were blown to her from finger-
tips; she was pelted with roses, and a wreath was made of the flowers
snatched from the ladies' caps, almost all sent out from Paris.
The cavatina was encored.
"How eagerly Capraja, with his passion for embellishments, must have
looked forward to this air, which derives all its value from
execution," remarked Massimilla. "Here Rossini has, so to speak, given
the reins over to the singer's fancy. Her cadenzas and her feeling
are everything. With a poor voice or inferior execution, it would be
nothing--the throat is responsible for the effects of this aria.
"The singer has to express the most intense anguish,--that of a woman
who sees her lover dying before her very eyes. La Tinti makes the
house ring with her highest notes; and Rossini, to leave pure singing
free to do its utmost, has written it in the simplest, clearest style.
Then, as a crowning effort, he has composed those heartrending musical
cries: Tormenti! Affanni! Smanie! What grief, what anguish, in those
runs. And la Tinti, you see, has quite carried the house off its
The Frenchman, bewildered by this adoring admiration throughout a vast
theatre for the source of its delight, here had a glimpse of genuine
Italian nature. But neither the Duchess nor the two young men paid any
attention to the ovation. Clarina began again.
The Duchess feared that she was seeing her Emilio for the last time.
As to the Prince: in the presence of the Duchess, the sovereign
divinity who lifted him to the skies, he had forgotten where he was,
he no longer heard the voice of the woman who had initiated him into
the mysteries of earthly pleasure, for deep dejection made his ears
tingle with a chorus of plaintive voices, half-drowned in a rushing
noise as of pouring rain.
Vendramin saw himself in an ancient Venetian costume, looking on at
the ceremony of the Bucentaur. The Frenchman, who plainly discerned
that some strange and painful mystery stood between the Prince and the
Duchess, was racking his brain with shrewd conjecture to discover what
it could be.
The scene had changed. In front of a fine picture, representing the
Desert and the Red Sea, the Egyptians and Hebrews marched and
countermarched without any effect on the feelings of the four persons
in the Duchess' box. But when the first chords on the harps preluded
the hymn of the delivered Israelites, the Prince and Vendramin rose
and stood leaning against the opposite sides of the box, and the
Duchess, resting her elbow on the velvet ledge, supported her head on
her left hand.
The Frenchman, understanding from this little stir, how important this
justly famous chorus was in the opinion of the house, listened with
The audience, with one accord, shouted for its repetition.
"I feel as if I were celebrating the liberation of Italy," thought a
"Such music lifts up bowed heads, and revives hope in the most
torpid," said a man from the Romagna.
"In this scene," said Massimilla, whose emotion was evident, "science
is set aside. Inspiration, alone, dictated this masterpiece; it rose
from the composer's soul like a cry of love! As to the accompaniment,
it consists of the harps; the orchestra appears only at the last
repetition of that heavenly strain. Rossini can never rise higher than
in this prayer; he will do as good work, no doubt, but never better:
the sublime is always equal to itself; but this hymn is one of the
things that will always be sublime. The only match for such a
conception might be found in the psalms of the great Marcello, a noble
Venetian, who was to music what Giotto was to painting. The majesty of
the phrase, unfolding itself with episodes of inexhaustible melody, is
comparable with the finest things ever invented by religious writers.
"How simple is the structure! Moses opens the attack in G minor,
ending in a cadenza in B flat which allows the chorus to come in,
pianissimo at first, in B flat, returning by modulations to G minor.
This splendid treatment of the voices, recurring three times, ends in
the last strophe with a stretto in G major of absolutely
overpowering effect. We feel as though this hymn of a nation released
from slavery, as it mounts to heaven, were met by kindred strains
falling from the higher spheres. The stars respond with joy to the
ecstasy of liberated mortals. The rounded fulness of the rhythm, the
deliberate dignity of the graduations leading up to the outbursts of
thanksgiving, and its slow return raise heavenly images in the soul.
Could you not fancy that you saw heaven open, angels holding sistrums
of gold, prostrate seraphs swinging their fragrant censers, and the
archangels leaning on the flaming swords with which they have
vanquished the heathen?
"The secret of this music and its refreshing effect on the soul is, I
believe, that of a very few works of human genius: it carries us for
the moment into the infinite; we feel it within us; we see it, in
those melodies as boundless as the hymns sung round the throne of God.
Rossini's genius carries us up to prodigious heights, whence we look
down on a promised land, and our eyes, charmed by heavenly light, gaze
into limitless space. Elcia's last strain, having almost recovered
from her grief, brings a feeling of earth-born passions into this hymn
of thanksgiving. This, again, is a touch of genius.
"Ay, sing!" exclaimed the Duchess, as she listened to the last stanza
with the same gloomy enthusiasm as the singers threw into it. "Sing!
You are free!"
The words were spoken in a voice that startled the physician. To
divert Massimilla from her bitter reflections, while the excitement of
recalling la Tinti was at its height, he engaged her in one of the
arguments in which the French excel.
"Madame," said he, "in explaining this grand work--which I shall come
to hear again to-morrow with a fuller comprehension, thanks to you, of
its structure and its effect--you have frequently spoken of the color
of the music, and of the ideas it depicts; now I, as an analyst, a
materialist, must confess that I have always rebelled against the
affectation of certain enthusiasts, who try to make us believe that
music paints with tones. Would it not be the same thing if Raphael's
admirers spoke of his singing with colors?"
"In the language of musicians," replied the Duchess, "painting is
arousing certain associations in our souls, or certain images in our
brain; and these memories and images have a color of their own; they
are sad or cheerful. You are battling for a word, that is all.
According to Capraja, each instrument has its task, its mission, and
appeals to certain feelings in our souls. Does a pattern in gold on a
blue ground produce the same sensations in you as a red pattern on
black or green? In these, as in music, there are no figures, no
expression of feeling; they are purely artistic, and yet no one looks
at them with indifference. Has not the oboe the peculiar tone that we
associate with the open country, in common with most wind instruments?
The brass suggests martial ideas, and rouses us to vehement or even
somewhat furious feelings. The strings, for which the material is
derived from the organic world, seem to appeal to the subtlest fibres
of our nature; they go to the very depths of the heart. When I spoke
of the gloomy hue, and the coldness of the tones in the introduction
to Mose, was I not fully as much justified as your critics are when
they speak of the 'color' in a writer's language? Do you not
acknowledge that there is a nervous style, a pallid style, a lively,
and a highly-colored style? Art can paint with words, sounds, colors,
lines, form; the means are many; the result is one.
"An Italian architect might give us the same sensation that is
produced in us by the introduction to Mose, by constructing a walk
through dark, damp avenues of tall, thick trees, and bringing us out
suddenly in a valley full of streams, flowers, and mills, and basking
in the sunshine. In their greatest moments the arts are but the
expression of the grand scenes of nature.
"I am not learned enough to enlarge on the philosophy of music; go and
talk to Capraja; you will be amazed at what he can tell you. He will
say that every instrument that depends on the touch or breath of man
for its expression and length of note, is superior as a vehicle of
expression to color, which remains fixed, or speech, which has its
limits. The language of music is infinite; it includes everything; it
can express all things.
"Now do you see wherein lies the pre-eminence of the work you have
just heard? I can explain it in a few words. There are two kinds of
music: one, petty, poor, second-rate, always the same, based on a
hundred or so of phrases which every musician has at his command, a
more or less agreeable form of babble which most composers live in. We
listen to their strains, their would-be melodies, with more or less
satisfaction, but absolutely nothing is left in our mind; by the end
of the century they are forgotten. But the nations, from the beginning
of time till our own day, have cherished as a precious treasure
certain strains which epitomize their instincts and habits; I might
almost say their history. Listen to one of these primitive tones,--the
Gregorian chant, for instance, is, in sacred song, the inheritance of
the earliest peoples,--and you will lose yourself in deep dreaming.
Strange and immense conceptions will unfold within you, in spite of
the extreme simplicity of these rudimentary relics. And once or twice
in a century--not oftener, there arises a Homer of music, to whom God
grants the gift of being ahead of his age; men who can compact
melodies full of accomplished facts, pregnant with mighty poetry.
Think of this; remember it. The thought, repeated by you, will prove
fruitful; it is melody, not harmony, that can survive the shocks of
"The music of this oratorio contains a whole world of great and sacred
things. A work which begins with that introduction and ends with that
prayer is immortal--as immortal as the Easter hymn, O filii et
filioe, as the Dies iroe of the dead, as all the songs which in
every land have outlived its splendor, its happiness, and its ruined
The tears the Duchess wiped away as she quitted her box showed plainly
that she was thinking of the Venice that is no more; and Vendramin
kissed her hand.
The performance ended with the most extraordinary chaos of noises:
abuse and hisses hurled at Genovese and a fit of frenzy in praise of
la Tinti. It was a long time since the Venetians had had so lively an
evening. They were warmed and revived by that antagonism which is
never lacking in Italy, where the smallest towns always throve on the
antagonistic interests of two factions: the Geulphs and Ghibellines
everywhere; the Capulets and the Montagues at Verona; the Geremei and
the Lomelli at Bologna; the Fieschi and the Doria at Genoa; the
patricians and the populace, the Senate and tribunes of the Roman
republic; the Pazzi and the Medici at Florence; the Sforza and the
Visconti at Milan; the Orsini and the Colonna at Rome,--in short,
everywhere and on every occasion there has been the same impulse
Out in the streets there were already Genovists and Tintists.
The Prince escorted the Duchess, more depressed than ever by the loves
of Osiride; she feared some similar disaster to her own, and could
only cling to Emilio, as if to keep him next her heart.
"Remember your promise," said Vendramin. "I will wait for you in the
Vendramin took the Frenchman's arm, proposing that they should walk
together on the Piazza San Marco while awaiting the Prince.
"I shall be only too glad if he should not come," he added.
This was the text for a conversation between the two, Vendramin
regarding it as a favorable opportunity for consulting the physician,
and telling him the singular position Emilio had placed himself in.
The Frenchman did as every Frenchman does on all occasions: he
laughed. Vendramin, who took the matter very seriously, was angry; but
he was mollified when the disciple of Majendie, of Cuvier, of
Dupuytren, and of Brossais assured him that he believed he could cure
the Prince of his high-flown raptures, and dispel the heavenly poetry
in which he shrouded Massimilla as in a cloud.
"A happy form of misfortune!" said he. "The ancients, who were not
such fools as might be inferred from their crystal heaven and their
ideas on physics, symbolized in the fable of Ixion the power which
nullifies the body and makes the spirit lord of all."
Vendramin and the doctor presently met Genovese, and with him the
fantastic Capraja. The melomaniac was anxious to learn the real cause
of the tenor's fiasco. Genovese, the question being put to him,
talked fast, like all men who can intoxicate themselves by the
ebullition of ideas suggested to them by a passion.
"Yes, signori, I love her, I worship her with a frenzy of which I
never believed myself capable, now that I am tired of women. Women
play the mischief with art. Pleasure and work cannot be carried on
together. Clara fancies that I was jealous of her success, that I
wanted to hinder her triumph at Venice; but I was clapping in the
side-scenes, and shouted Diva louder than any one in the house."
"But even that," said Cataneo, joining them, "does not explain why,
from being a divine singer, you should have become one of the most
execrable performers who ever piped air through his larynx, giving
none of the charm even which enchants and bewitches us."
"I!" said the singer. "I a bad singer! I who am the equal of the
By this time, the doctor and Vendramin, Capraja, Cataneo, and Genovese
had made their way to the piazzetta. It was midnight. The glittering
bay, outlined by the churches of San Giorgio and San Paulo at the end
of the Giudecca, and the beginning of the Grand Canal, that opens so
mysteriously under the Dogana and the church of Santa Maria della
Salute, lay glorious and still. The moon shone on the barques along
the Riva de' Schiavoni. The waters of Venice, where there is no tide,
looked as if they were alive, dancing with a myriad spangles. Never
had a singer a more splendid stage.
Genovese, with an emphatic flourish, seemed to call Heaven and Earth
to witness; and then, with no accompaniment but the lapping waves, he
sang Ombra adorata, Crescentini's great air. The song, rising up
between the statues of San Teodoro and San Giorgio, in the heart of
sleeping Venice lighted by the moon, the words, in such strange
harmony with the scene, and the melancholy passion of the singer, held
the Italians and the Frenchman spellbound.
At the very first notes, Vendramin's face was wet with tears. Capraja
stood as motionless as one of the statues in the ducal palace. Cataneo
seemed moved to some feeling. The Frenchman, taken by surprise, was
meditative, like a man of science in the presence of a phenomenon that
upsets all his fundamental axioms. These four minds, all so different,
whose hopes were so small, who believed in nothing for themselves or
after themselves, who regarded their own existence as that of a
transient and a fortuitous being,--like the little life of a plant or
a beetle,--had a glimpse of Heaven. Never did music more truly merit
the epithet divine. The consoling notes, as they were poured out,
enveloped their souls in soft and soothing airs. On these vapors,
almost visible, as it seemed to the listeners, like the marble shapes
about them in the silver moonlight, angels sat whose wings, devoutly
waving, expressed adoration and love. The simple, artless melody
penetrated to the soul as with a beam of light. It was a holy passion!
But the singer's vanity roused them from their emotion with a terrible
"Now, am I a bad singer?" he exclaimed, as he ended.
His audience only regretted that the instrument was not a thing of
Heaven. This angelic song was then no more than the outcome of a man's
offended vanity! The singer felt nothing, thought nothing, of the
pious sentiments and divine images he could create in others,--no
more, in fact, than Paganini's violin knows what the player makes it
utter. What they had seen in fancy was Venice lifting its shroud and
singing--and it was merely the result of a tenor's fiasco!
"Can you guess the meaning of such a phenomenon?" the Frenchman asked
of Capraja, wishing to make him talk, as the Duchess had spoken of him
as a profound thinker.
"What phenomenon?" said Capraja.
"Genovese--who is admirable in the absence of la Tinti, and when he
sings with her is a braying ass."
"He obeys an occult law of which one of your chemists might perhaps
give you the mathematical formula, and which the next century will no
doubt express in a statement full of x, a, and b, mixed up with
little algebraic signs, bars, and quirks that give me the colic; for
the finest conceptions of mathematics do not add much to the sum total
of our enjoyment.
"When an artist is so unfortunate as to be full of the passion he
wishes to express, he cannot depict it because he is the thing itself
instead of its image. Art is the work of the brain, not of the heart.
When you are possessed by a subject you are a slave, not a master; you
are like a king besieged by his people. Too keen a feeling, at the
moment when you want to represent that feeling, causes an insurrection
of the senses against the governing faculty."
"Might we not convince ourselves of this by some further experiment?"
said the doctor.
"Cataneo, you might bring your tenor and the prima donna together
again," said Capraja to his friend.
"Well, gentlemen," said the Duke, "come to sup with me. We ought to
reconcile the tenor and la Clarina; otherwise the season will be
ruined in Venice."
The invitation was accepted.
"Gondoliers!" called Cataneo.
"One minute," said Vendramin. "Memmi is waiting for me at Florian's; I
cannot leave him to himself. We must make him tipsy to-night, or he
will kill himself to-morrow."
"Corpo santo!" exclaimed the Duke. "I must keep that young fellow
alive, for the happiness and future prospects of my race. I will
invite him, too."
They all went back to Florian's, where the assembled crowd were
holding an eager and stormy discussion to which the tenor's arrival
put an end. In one corner, near a window looking out on the colonnade,
gloomy, with a fixed gaze and rigid attitude, Emilio was a dismal
image of despair.
"That crazy fellow," said the physician, in French, to Vendramin,
"does not know what he wants. Here is a man who can make of a
Massimilla Doni a being apart from the rest of creation, possessing
her in heaven, amid ideal splendor such as no power on earth can make
real. He can behold his mistress for ever sublime and pure, can always
hear within him what we have just heard on the seashore; can always
live in the light of a pair of eyes which create for him the warm and
golden glow that surrounds the Virgin in Titian's Assumption,--after
Raphael had invented it or had it revealed to him for the
Transfiguration,--and this man only longs to smirch the poem.
"By my advice he must needs combine his sensual joys and his heavenly
adoration in one woman. In short, like all the rest of us, he will
have a mistress. He had a divinity, and the wretched creature insists
on her being a female! I assure you, monsieur, he is resigning heaven.
I will not answer for it that he may not ultimately die of despair.
"O ye women's faces, delicately outlined in a pure and radiant oval,
reminding us of those creations of art where it has most successfully
competed with nature! Divine feet that cannot walk, slender forms that
an earthly breeze would break, shapes too frail ever to conceive,
virgins that we dreamed of as we grew out of childhood, admired in
secret, and adored without hope, veiled in the beams of some
unwearying desire,--maids whom we may never see again, but whose smile
remains supreme in our life, what hog of Epicurus could insist on
dragging you down to the mire of this earth!
"The sun, monsieur, gives light and heat to the world, only because it
is at a distance of thirty-three millions of leagues. Get nearer to
it, and science warns you that it is not really hot or luminous,--for
science is of some use," he added, looking at Capraja.
"Not so bad for a Frenchman and a doctor," said Capraja, patting the
foreigner on the shoulder. "You have in those words explained the
thing which Europeans least understand in all Dante: his Beatrice.
Yes, Beatrice, that ideal figure, the queen of the poet's fancies,
chosen above all the elect, consecrated with tears, deified by memory,
and for ever young in the presence of ineffectual desire!"
"Prince," said the Duke to Emilio, "come and sup with me. You cannot
refuse the poor Neapolitan whom you have robbed both of his wife and
of his mistress."
This broad Neapolitan jest, spoken with an aristocratic good manner,
made Emilio smile; he allowed the Duke to take his arm and lead him
Cataneo had already sent a messenger to his house from the cafe.
As the Palazzo Memmi was on the Grand Canal, not far from Santa Maria
della Salute, the way thither on foot was round by the Rialto, or it
could be reached in a gondola. The four guests would not separate and
preferred to walk; the Duke's infirmities obliged him to get into his
At about two in the morning anybody passing the Memmi palace would
have seen light pouring out of every window across the Grand Canal,
and have heard the delightful overture to Semiramide performed at
the foot of the steps by the orchestra of the Fenice, as a serenade
to la Tinti.
The company were at supper in the second floor gallery. From the
balcony la Tinti in return sang Almavida's Buona sera from Il
Barbiere, while the Duke's steward distributed payment from his
master to the poor artists and bid them to dinner the next day, such
civilities as are expected of grand signors who protect singers, and
of fine ladies who protect tenors and basses. In these cases there is
nothing for it but to marry all the corps de theatre.
Cataneo did things handsomely; he was the manager's banker, and this
season was costing him two thousand crowns.
He had had all the palace furnished, had imported a French cook, and
wines of all lands. So the supper was a regal entertainment.
The Prince, seated next la Tinti, was keenly alive, all through the
meal, to what poets in every language call the darts of love. The
transcendental vision of Massimilla was eclipsed, just as the idea of
God is sometimes hidden by clouds of doubt in the consciousness of
solitary thinkers. Clarina thought herself the happiest woman in the
world as she perceived Emilio was in love with her. Confident of
retaining him, her joy was reflected in her features, her beauty was
so dazzling that the men, as they lifted their glasses, could not
resist bowing to her with instinctive admiration.
"The Duchess is not to compare with la Tinti," said the Frenchman,
forgetting his theory under the fire of the Sicilian's eyes.
The tenor ate and drank languidly; he seemed to care only to identify
himself with the prima donna's life, and had lost the hearty sense of
enjoyment which is characteristic of Italian men singers.
"Come, signorina," said the Duke, with an imploring glance at Clarina,
"and you, caro prima uomo," he added to Genovese, "unite your voices
in one perfect sound. Let us have the C of Qual portento, when light
appears in the oratorio we have just heard, to convince my old friend
Capraja of the superiority of unison to any embellishment."
"I will carry her off from that Prince she is in love with; for she
adores him--it stares me in the face!" said Genovese to himself.
What was the amazement of the guests who had heard Genovese out of
doors, when he began to bray, to coo, mew, squeal, gargle, bellow,
thunder, bark, shriek, even produce sounds which could only be
described as a hoarse rattle,--in short, go through an
incomprehensible farce, while his face was transfigured with rapturous
expression like that of a martyr, as painted by Zurbaran or Murillo,
Titian or Raphael. The general shout of laughter changed to almost
tragical gravity when they saw that Genovese was in utter earnest. La
Tinti understood that her companion was in love with her, and had
spoken the truth on the stage, the land of falsehood.
"Poverino!" she murmured, stroking the Prince's hand under the
"By all that is holy!" cried Capraja, "will you tell me what score you
are reading at this moment--murdering Rossini? Pray inform us what you
are thinking about, what demon is struggling in your throat."
"A demon!" cried Genovese, "say rather the god of music. My eyes, like
those of Saint-Cecilia, can see angels, who, pointing with their
fingers, guide me along the lines of the score which is written in
notes of fire, and I am trying to keep up with them. PER DIO! do you
not understand? The feeling that inspires me has passed into my being;
it fills my heart and my lungs; my soul and throat have but one life.
"Have you never, in a dream, listened to the most glorious strains,
the ideas of unknown composers who have made use of pure sound as
nature has hidden it in all things,--sound which we call forth, more
or less perfectly, by the instruments we employ to produce masses of
various color; but which in those dream-concerts are heard free from
the imperfections of the performers who cannot be all feeling, all
soul? And I, I give you that perfection, and you abuse me!
"You are as mad at the pit of the Fenice, who hissed me! I scorned
the vulgar crowd for not being able to mount with me to the heights
whence we reign over art, and I appeal to men of mark, to a Frenchman
--Why, he is gone!"
"Half an hour ago," said Vendramin.
"That is a pity. He, perhaps, would have understood me, since
Italians, lovers of art, do not--"
"On you go!" said Capraja, with a smile, and tapping lightly on the
tenor's head. "Ride off on the divine Ariosto's hippogriff; hunt down
your radiant chimera, musical visionary as you are!"
In point of fact, all the others, believing that Genovese was drunk,
let him talk without listening to him. Capraja alone had understood
the case put by the French physician.
While the wine of Cyprus was loosening every tongue, and each one was
prancing on his favorite hobby, the doctor, in a gondola, was waiting
for the Duchess, having sent her a note written by Vendramin.
Massimilla appeared in her night wrapper, so much had she been alarmed
by the tone of the Prince's farewell, and so startled by the hopes
held out by the letter.
"Madame," said the Frenchman, as he placed her in a seat and desired
the gondoliers to start, "at this moment Prince Emilio's life is in
danger, and you alone can save him."
"What is to be done?" she asked.
"Ah! Can you resign yourself to play a degrading part--in spite of the
noblest face to be seen in Italy? Can you drop from the blue sky where
you dwell, into the bed of a courtesan? In short, can you, an angel of
refinement, of pure and spotless beauty, condescend to imagine what
the love must be of a Tinti--in her room, and so effectually as to
deceive the ardor of Emilio, who is indeed too drunk to be very clear-
"Is that all?" said she, with a smile that betrayed to the Frenchman a
side he had not as yet perceived of the delightful nature of an
Italian woman in love. "I will out-do la Tinti, if need be, to save my
"And you will thus fuse into one two kinds of love, which he sees as
distinct--divided by a mountain of poetic fancy, that will melt away
like the snow on a glacier under the beams of the midsummer sun."
"I shall be eternally your debtor," said the Duchess, gravely.
When the French doctor returned to the gallery, where the orgy had by
this time assumed the stamp of Venetian frenzy, he had a look of
satisfaction which the Prince, absorbed by la Tinti, failed to
observe; he was promising himself a repetition of the intoxicating
delights he had known. La Tinti, a true Sicilian, was floating on the
tide of a fantastic passion on the point of being gratified.
The doctor whispered a few words to Vendramin, and la Tinti was
"What are you plotting?" she inquired of the Prince's friend.
"Are you kind-hearted?" said the doctor in her ear, with the sternness
of an operator.
The words pierced to her comprehension like a dagger-thrust to her
"It is to save Emilio's life," added Vendramin.
"Come here," said the doctor to Clarina.
The hapless singer rose and went to the other end of the table where,
between Vendramin and the Frenchman, she looked like a criminal
between the confessor and the executioner.
She struggled for a long time, but yielded at last for love of Emilio.
The doctor's last words were:
"And you must cure Genovese!"
She spoke a word to the tenor as she went round the table. She
returned to the Prince, put her arm round his neck and kissed his hair
with an expression of despair which struck Vendramin and the
Frenchman, the only two who had their wits about them, then she
vanished into her room. Emilio, seeing Genovese leave the table, while
Cataneo and Capraja were absorbed in a long musical discussion, stole
to the door of the bedroom, lifted the curtain, and slipped in, like
an eel into the mud.
"But you see, Cataneo," said Capraja, "you have exacted the last drop
of physical enjoyment, and there you are, hanging on a wire like a
cardboard harlequin, patterned with scars, and never moving unless the
string is pulled of a perfect unison."
"And you, Capraja, who have squeezed ideas dry, are not you in the
same predicament? Do you not live riding the hobby of a cadenza?"
"I? I possess the whole world!" cried Capraja, with a sovereign
gesture of his hand.
"And I have devoured it!" replied the Duke.
They observed that the physician and Vendramin were gone, and that
they were alone.
Next morning, after a night of perfect happiness, the Prince's sleep
was disturbed by a dream. He felt on his heart the trickle of pearls,
dropped there by an angel; he woke, and found himself bathed in the
tears of Massimilla Doni. He was lying in her arms, and she gazed at
him as he slept.
That evening, at the Fenice,--though la Tinti had not allowed him to
rise till two in the afternoon, which is said to be very bad for a
tenor voice,--Genovese sang divinely in his part in Semiramide. He
was recalled with la Tinti, fresh crowns were given, the pit was wild
with delight; the tenor no longer attempted to charm the prima donna
by angelic methods.
Vendramin was the only person whom the doctor could not cure. Love for
a country that has ceased to be is a love beyond curing. The young
Venetian, by dint of living in his thirteenth century republic, and in
the arms of that pernicious courtesan called opium, when he found
himself in the work-a-day world to which reaction brought him,
succumbed, pitied and regretted by his friends.
No, how shall the end of this adventure be told--for it is too
disastrously domestic. A word will be enough for the worshipers of the
The Duchess was expecting an infant.
The Peris, the naiads, the fairies, the sylphs of ancient legend, the
Muses of Greece, the Marble Virgins of the Certosa at Pavia, the Day
and Night of Michael Angelo, the little Angels which Bellini was the
first to put at the foot of his Church pictures, and which Raphael
painted so divinely in his Virgin with the Donor, and the Madonna who
shivers at Dresden, the lovely Maidens by Orcagna in the Church of
San-Michele, at Florence, the celestial choir round the tomb in Saint-
Sebaldus, at Nuremberg, the Virgins of the Duomo, at Milan, the whole
population of a hundred Gothic Cathedrals, all the race of beings who
burst their mould to visit you, great imaginative artists--all these
angelic and disembodied maidens gathered round Massimilla's bed, and
PARIS, May 25th, 1839.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Varese, Emilio Memmi, Prince of
Varese, Princess of
Letters of Two Brides