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stock, with labourers at the open barn-doors thrashing with flails, carried me in imagination back to dear old England. At the doors of the cottages women, dark rustic beauties, with “cheeks of ruddy bronze," were seated, busied with their distaffs, or were stooping over their washing-tubs, and beating their linen against the sides of the troughs fixed above. The men were clustering idly about the doors of the cafés beneath the shady vine-arbours, or around the tables set with bottles of cooling mistra and lemonade.
We traversed successively the villages of Aresiglia, Stra, Fiesso, and at the town of Dolo we changed horses, where, as the posta happened to be in the market-place, and the day happened to be market-day, I found enough to amuse me. Groups of women, dressed alike in dark blue checked gowns, red handkerchiefs on their necks, straw-hats with wide flapping brims, or with a shawl thrown over the head instead, no stockings, feet sometimes in slippers, but generally bare, were crowding the square; some carrying large jars of milk or wine, as an English milkman carries his pails, but with a bent stick over the shoulders, instead of a frame fitted to the shape; others carrying baskets of fruit or fowl-hampers, and one a couple of haycocks in the same manner. On one side the market-place these fair ones swarmed like bees in a hive, presenting a very sea of straw-hats, and the shrill buzz of their united tongues almost drowned the screams and cacklings of the fowls, which were being pulled forth the crowded baskets. The men, who were here but few and far between, wore light blue trousers, sometimes girt up with a red or blue woollen sash, white waistcoat, no coat, a blue or white cap, with the end hanging down the back, or a high-crowned hat. To complete the sketch, fancy several long, narrow, high-wheeled carts laden with bricks, and with a pair of sleepy long-horned oxen yoked to the thick shaft, standing in the midst of the square; another passing through it piled with huge logs of wood, and drawn by four oxen, two abreast, and a crazy old Rozinante of a horse a-head. Fancy all this in the square or marketplace, which is bounded on one side by the Brenta, and on the other by a row of white houses, with a fine church standing prominently forth; fancy the heavy yellow velocifero, or diligence, with its three horses abreast, and the harlequin-clad, betasselled, betrumpeted postilion, smacking his whip in his impatience to be in motion, and your humble servant, in scarcely less uncouth costume, mounting to the cabriolet behind him, and you may at once, with the diligence, turn your back
Dolo. We soon reached another village on the same bank of the Brenta. Casinos with gaily-painted fronts, courts and gates guarded by statues, as already described, neat white cottages with green window-shutters, many an “oratorio privato" showing the piety of the inhabitants ; a white church in the Italian style, with a lofty campanile, or bell-tower, -this is La Mira, once the residence of Lord Byron, and the birthplace of that chef-d'ouvre of the poet, the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold.
I inquired in vain of the conductor and postilion for Byron's villa here. They knew only of the Moncenigo Palace at Venice.
The scenery in the neighbourhood of La Mira, seen by sunset, called forth those three magnificent stanzas, commencing with
“ The moon is up, and yet it is not night,
Sunset divides the sky with her," &c.
None of Byron's description, however, suited La Mira as I saw it in the light of morning, except the first line, for the crescent moon was still visible, though faint and shadowy, in the clear blue heavens. The Brenta, by the way, is but a paltry stream of thirty or forty feet in breadth, sometimes almost choked by reeds, and always flowing between artificial banks, so as to have all the stiffness and formality of a canal, without its straightness. It is in many parts overhung with weeping willows and cypresses, which give it a melancholy air, not lessened by the crosses reared on its banks. Pretty villas still continue to skirt it below La Mira, with cottages overgrown with vines or melons, and hedged around by bushes of flowering cistus.
On a large vessel moored in the stream were a number of labourers busied in deepening the channel by means of huge shovels, which they worked like oars. These fellows were stripped literally to their shirts ; but, what matter ? - this is Italy, where delicacy is an exotic. Many of the peasants, too, that I saw in the maize-fields and vineyards by the roadside, were in similar costume; some few with a straw-hat in addition.
After following the windings of the stream for some miles, we reached a spot where the road forked, the right branch running to Fusina, the most direct road to Venice, and the other, which we took, leading to Mestre. Ever since leaving Dolo, I had been anxiously looking out for Venice, and every lofty tower which arose in the horizon I regarded as the campanile of St. Mark, till undeceived by the conduttore. But now, soon after entering on this road, as my eyes were wandering across the low marshy country on the right, they caught a distant tower between the trees; another and another rapidly succeeded it, and presently the whole of Venice came at once into view at the distance of five or six miles, beyond the narrow strip of bright water which bounded the marshy shore. A soft silvery-grey haze was sleeping on the horizon, and against this was thrown the city, blued by the distance, and bristling with towers of various forms; and, as the tips of these were sparkling in the sun, it seemed like a brilliant diadem cast upon the waters. In a few minutes all was lost behind the straggling groves,—then again came into view but for a moment, towers and domes fleeting past as rapidly as though they were images in a magic lantern.
Cottages and farms environed with vineyards again adorned the roadside, but I could not notice them, and scarcely could I spare a glance to the wild grey mountains of Friuli waving along the horizon on the left, beyond a vast expanse of marshy ground. My gaze was fixed on the spot where Venice had vanished from my view, and where I momentarily expected her to reappear. At length the velocifero entered the streets of the village of Mestre; and having reached the Piazza, drove into the court-yard of the posta.
Here the vehicle disgorged its passengers, who, after some delay, were conducted with their luggage to the banks of a canal hard by. On the long flight of steps leading down to the water, was a group of lazzaroni, basking in the sun; twenty or thirty of them; most picturesque fellows, forming, with their pendent caps, bright-coloured breeches, and half-clad sunburnt limbs, striking subjects for the foreground of an Italian scene. They amused themselves, as they were squatting or lying about, with bantering one another and cutting jokes at our expense. The narrow canal below us was crowded with gondolas — the first I had seen.
“ Didst ever see a gondola ? For fear
You should not, I'll describe it you exactly :
Carved at the prow, built lightly, but compactly,
It glides along the water, looking blackly,
Where none can make out what you say or do.
And under the Rialto shoot along,
And round the theatres, a sable throng,
But not to them do woeful things belong,
Such are the ordinary gondolas; but that which I now entered was of gigantic size, rowed with four oars, and having a covered bux in the centre, not unlike an omnibus, capable of holding twelve or fourteen persons, instead of three or four, as the ordinary gondolas.
The crew was of one family. The father and his two eldest sons, stout, brawny fellows, stood in the aft part, while a younger brother, a lad of twelve or fourteen, took the bow-oar. A half-naked urchin, evidently of the same family, sat on the little deck astern, munching a slice of water-melon, and inwardly smiling at his own dolce far niente, while his father and brothers were toiling away at their heavy oars till the perspiration literally rained from their faces.
We steered our way slowly down the canal, amid the gondolas and sea-going craft with which it was almost choked, between banks lined with white houses, and shaded by rows of acacias. Then, leaving Mestre, we proceeded for nearly three miles between bare low banks, (passing the fortress of Malghera) to a dogana, or custom-house, at the mouth of the canal. Here Venice first opened fully upon us at the distance of two miles. Our passports having been examined, we continued our course straight across the wide-spreading lagune ; the channel (that of San Secondo) being marked by a row of stakes stretching away in an unbroken line to the city. The water of the lagune was of an oily smoothness, almost colourless; and, as a mist obscured the borizon, the islets which appeared on either hand in the distance, seened to float in the sky, and Venice herself to ride all lightly and airily upon the waters.
On one of the stakes just mentioned was perched a small box, containing a Madonna, with some rude steps leading to it from the water. Several gondolas were lying before it, and one crazy old boat pushed off from among
them to meet us. Our rowers rested on their oars as it approached, and waited while the old man in it held out a long rod with a leathern bag at the end, into which he besought us in piteous tones, to drop some
anime!”. None of us, however, were pious enough to assist in relieving from purgatory the souls of the mariners there drowned, and we rowed on, leaving the old man staring in mute astonishment at our hard-heartedness.
“But, how could you notice such trifles at such a moment?” you will doubtless inquire. Shall I tell the truth ? Venice, as seen on the approach from Mestre has none, absolutely none of the beauty and
“ Carità per le povere
glory with which the imagination is ever apt to invest it. Most dull, stupid, and unpoetical does it appear. With a long range of dirty grey or red-brick houses, mean and low, and a huge factory on the shore sending forth volumes of dark smoke, I could, had it not been for the total absence of shipping, have almost fancied myself off Wapping or Rotherhithe!
We presently passed a small fort standing in the midst of the water, half a mile from the city, and soon after entered the Canal Reggio, and then all such profane resemblance vanished, and I was in a picturesque old Italian city, with decayed weather-stained houses on either side of the canal, but, except in respect of the gondolas, it was not yet Venice. A few minutes more, however, and we shot beneath a bridge into the Grand Canal, and then the glories of Venice burst upon me. Then I was indeed in Venice—in the Venice of my imagination —the Venice of Canaletti the Venice of a thousand palaces — for there they were, stretching away on both sides the canal as far as the eye could reach, in stateliness and beauty, like a garland of flowers bound round the brow of the Ocean Queen. But I looked again, and saw that the flowers were faded ; their freshness and glory have departed, decay and ruin only are left. The feelings of anxious delight which I naturally carried into a city so renowned in history, and so peculiar in herself, were at once checked by the melancholy air of everything around. These palaces,
“ This long array
Above the Dogeless city's vanished sway;" the narrow dark canals, which at intervals debouched upon that in which we were, seeming the very abodes of mystery and gloom; and the almost deathlike silence which reigned over all, called forth a sympathetic sadness from the soul. The very gondolas in their sable trappings seemed mourning for the fallen condition of the city. Yet compassion and regret are not unmingled with admiration; though everything is melancholy, everything is beautiful. Venice is beauty in tears; and though the lustre of her loveliness be somewhat dimmed, she engages our sympathies not less powerfully by her misfortunes.
« Alas! poor Venice !” was my heart-felt exclamation.
You will easily imagine my eagerness to see everything around me, and believe that I had several narrow escapes of being guillotined by the sharp steel prows of the gondolas as I was stretching my head out of the window of mine. In a short time the canal made a sharp bend to the right, and we suddenly shot beneath a wide bridge of a single arch, and a moment afterwards, on looking up, I recognised the Rialto.
Palaces again, as far as the eye could reach, with church towers of various forms rising at intervals behind; but I had only begun to look about me; when the gondola turned suddenly to the left up a very narrow canal, and stopped immediately at a flight of steps. The vast gloomy building above was the “ I. R. Direzione della Posta,” and the little canal was the court-yard of our water-omnibus. Here we dismounted, or disembarked if you please, and, ascending the steps, entered the hall of the palace — for such it was originally, *
* The Austrian Government, I was told, had purchased this palace of the Gri. mani family for about four thousand pounds sterling. In England such a mansion would be worth ten times that sum.
hall of great length, with sentries pacing within, and the coverings of three or four gondolas arranged like cotins along the sides. The building is laid out in public offices, that of the diligences being at one end of the hall, and the “ Posta dalle Lettere" at the other.
I had already learned that there were three good hotels in Venice,viz. the Leone Bianco, which I had just passed, almost adjoining the Posta, and comnianding a fine view of the Rialto and Grand Canal, the Albergo dell'Europa, at the mouth of the same canal, and near the Piazza of St. Mark and the Ducal Palace, and the Albergo Reale, on the quay overlooking the port and shipping. Judging of their comparative advantages of situation by my map, I chose the second, and have had no reason to repent my choice.
Hiring a gondola — not one like that I had just quitted, but one of the ordinary canoe-like things, which scarcely seem to touch the waters as they glide over them, (not an omnibus, in fact, but a cab,)-1 seated myself on the black leathern cushion. Oh, luxury of luxuries ! Talk of sofas, of easy chairs, of air-cushions! Commend me to a gondola, with its deep, well-stuffed, springy seat, gently raised from the flooring, with its slightly sloping back against which to recline, and its two little footstools, similarly padded, one on each side the boat, on which to rest one's limbs, and enjoy one's otium cum dignitate. He must have been a very epicure in repose who contrived the internal arrangements of the gondola. Then you can see through the open windows all that is passing on both sides, or before you; or, if you would keep out the vulgar gaze, there are glass and wooden sliding shutters, to be shifted at pleasure, and suiting any degree of publicity or privacy you may desire. The gondola is the most delightful, commodious, and convenient of all vehicles, aquatic or terrene. You can make it your chamber — what bed more luxurious than its cushions ?-your study,
“ You may write,
Unseen, uninterrupted.” Not that I have yet tried this experiment, but I have Shelley's authority that it may be done. But, what may not be done in a gondola?
On I floated between lines of palaces, solemnly gorgeous, and of every variety of architecture-Gothic, Saracenic, Greek, or Italian ;-towers and domes rising proudly behind. English-rigged vessels in full sail ; other nondescript craft lying along the shore ; gondolas shooting about in every direction, all reflected in the dark-green waters, and each object fixing my eye for a moment, till it was involuntarily drawn off by some other more novel and attractive. At length, just as I had begun to gaze with admiration on the sublime dome of the church of the Salute, which rose from the right bank of the canal, the gondola was steered up to the steps of an ancient Gothic palace on the opposite side; the rowers shipped their oars; I stept ashore, mounted the steps, and found myself within the vast hall of the Albergo dell' Europa, or Hotel of Europe.