18 AUGUST 1866, Page 18


Tars book came into our hands while Venice was still, a slave. It leaves them while things are still uncertain; before we can tell what will be done by Italy, what-line will be taken by. France. But the preliminaries between Austria and Prussia distinctly recognize the fact that the ocean city, which should have been the brightest jewel in the crown of the Hapsburgs, and which instead-was a pearl trampled under foot, has passed from Austria, and is to be placed- at the disposal of Italy. Mr. Howells could hardly' have expected this when he wrote. For though he con- firms all that has been said about the state of Venice, he announces that the official position he held as American. Consul shuts his mouth to criticism of the Austrian rule so long as that rule con. tinues. Perhaps this delicacy is somewhat overstrained. It is certainly new in American travellers, and may be the recoil from that utter want of reticence which distinguished the school of N. P. Willis. Still Mr. Howells declares that the hatred felt for Austria by the Venetians-is intense and inappeasable. He gives us details of the action of the Comitato Veneto, of the division of society into Italians and Germans, of the way in which the temptations of music are resisted ; and these details, if not new, are rendered more forcible by that very official position which ties Mr. Howells' tongue, and the delicacy with which he accepts his self-imposed conditions. " Any public demon.- stration of content," he says, "such as. going to the Opera or to the Piazza while the Austrian band plays,,is. followed by. a warning from the Venetian Committee for its discontinuance." The music played by the. Austrian band consists chiefly of " seleae tions from Italian operas, and the attraction is the hardest of all others for the music-loving Italian to resist. But he does resist it. There are some noble ladies who have not entered the Piazza while the band was playing there since the-fall of the Republic, of 1849." Naturally enough society languishes, and the Austrians have the good taste to hate Venice. " By no sort of chance are Austrians; or friends of Austrians, invited to participate. in the pleasures of Venetian society," and foreigners who come to Venice have to choose between being Austriacanti and Italianissimi. " My predecessor," says Mr. Howells, " whose unhappy knowledge of German threw him on his arrival among people of that race, was always regarded as the enemy of Venetian freedom, though I believe his principles were of the most vivid republican.tint in the United States." We remember being cautioned against wearing our hair long in Venice for fear of being set down aa-Austrian, and we submitted ourselves to a hairdresser at Mantua that we might not fall into the ranks of the Philistines.

But now we will turn to something pleasanter. Mr. Ho wells avoids politics, and deals with the social life of the people. It is his wish to supply a void in most books of travel, and tell as much as possible of the every-day life of Venice. Thus he-gives us comparatively little about pictures and churches, and seldom tries his hand at word-painting where the masters of the art have gone before him. As for those palaces which cause raptures to the summer birds of passage, he frankly admits that they.are cold and wretched :—

"The windows shut imperfectly, the heavy wooden blindsimpervi- onsly (is it worth while to observe that there are no Venetian blinds in Venice ?) ; the doors lift slantingly from the floor, in which their lower hinges are imbedded; the stoves are of plaster, and consume fuel with- out return of heat ; the balconies alone are always charming, -whether they hang high over the streets, or look out upon the canals, and, with the gaily painted ceilings, go far to make Venetian houses . habitable. It happens in the case of houses, as with nearly everything else in Italy; that you pay about the same price for half the worth and comfort that yen get in America. In Venice, most of the desirable situations are on the Grand Canal, but here the rents are something, absurdly high, when taken in consideration with the fact that Venice is not made a place of residence by foreigners like Florence, and that it has no commercial activity to enhance the cost of living. Horse-hunting, under these-ein- cumstancesf becomes amoffice oLconstant surprise and disconcertment to the stranger. You look, for example, at .a suite of rooms in a tumble- down old palace; where the -walls,- shamelessly smartened up.with-coarse paper, crumble at your touch; where the floor rises and falls like• the sea, and the door-frames-and window-cases have lung lost alLrecellea- tion of the plumb." "It is the garden-which has Ant taken your heart, with a glimpse caught through the great open door of the palace.- It is disordered- and wild, but,soinattell.the beater;-its fire-are very thick and dark,. anddhevettue, certain-statues,; fauna -awl myelpha, which weather-stains. ands mosses have, made much decanter than the sculptor intended. You think that for this garden's sake yen could put Venetian•Lifisiv -11#31k :PEW,

up with the house, which must be very cheap. What is the price of the apartment?' you ask of the smiling landlord. He answers, without winking, If taken for several years, a thousand-florins a year' "

The fittings correspond with the house, and excite the keenest scorn in the machine-made American. " All sorts of mechanics' tools," he says, " are-clumsy and inconvenient.; the turner's lathe moves by broken impulses, door hinges are made to order, and lift the door ftoi}i the ground as it moves upon them, all nails and tacks are hand-made,-window sashes are contrived to be glazed -without putty, and the panes are put in from the top, so that to repair a broken glass the whole sash is taken apart." As with the palaces so is a -with-regard to many other Venetian illusions. The Carnival is a ghost, and a. shabby, wretched ghost, consisting of jacehini hideously dressed out with masks -and horns and women's habits, who go about droning a stupid song and levying tribute on the shopkeepers. The sunny-South wants those sea-coal :fires to which Otway justly gave a place among English requirements. The romantic gondoliers are rogues, but they are gpod-natured and simple rogues. Instead of singing Taw they quarrel loudly antlfiercely with, each other, and so far from steering gracefully round the bends of narrow canals, there is nothing they enjoy more than running into each other and keeping up an oscillation that seems likely at any moment to end yin an overturn. Yet if the gondolier himself is not romantic, his life is far from pleasant, and his gains are meagre. This sketch presents him at his beet :— " The immediate goal of every gondolier's ambition is to serve, no matter-for how short a time, an Inglese, by which generic title all foreigners except Germans are known to him. The Inglese, whether be-be English, American, or Russian, is apt to make the- tour of the whole city in a gondola, and. to give handsome /moan/nano at the end, whereas your Tedesco frugally-walks to every place accessible by land, or when, in a party of six or eight, he takes a gondola, plants himself upon the letter of the tariff, and will give no more than the rate fixed by law. The gondolier is therefore flowingly polite to the Ingleser and he is even civil to the Tedesoo ; but not at all bound in courtesy to that provincial Italian who comes from the country to Venice, bargains furiously for his boat, and commonly pays under the tariff. The Venetian himself who does- not keep-a gondola seldom hires- one, and event= this rare occasion makes no lavish demand, such ' How much .do -you want for taking me to the railway station ? ' lest the• fervid imagination of the gondolier rise to zwanzigers and florins, and a tedious dispute ensue. He asks, 'How many centissimi do you want?' and the contract is made for a number of soldi."

Difference of nationality is more strongly marked in a quiet nook of the past like Venice than in most of the larger centres, the bustle of which seems to enforce a certain uniformity. The old- world politeness of the Venetiansthemselves contrasts strangely with the pushing smartness of the Americans, and the regularity with which the English devote themselves to the sights prescribed by Murray. Mr. Howells shows us the way in which Italians bargain and the elaborateness with which they compliment or bless- each other, and then turns to his own countryman, who disliked chat- fering, and always closed his- bargains without words. On one occasion the. American had picked out several articles, the-prices asked for which amounted to ninety-three francs. He rapidly computed the total, and said to the shopman, " Without-words now Pli give you a hundred-francs for- the lot." The shopman raised his eyebrows pensively, shrugged his shoulders reluctantly-, an& closed with the offer. The English- in Venice mostly devote themselves to the Armenian convent, and see it more carefully than the smart Yankee who rushed ia saying, "Show me all you canin five minutes." But Mr. Howells observes maliciously that some English people came-to the convent with a notion that Byron was an Armenian. It is more probable that while he did the Armenian language the honour of studying it, the brothers knew little or nothing of his celebrity, and thought-quite as little of his pro& cieney in their language. And we can fully believe Mr. Ho wells when he says that he saw an English family-stop before Titian's "John the Baptist," and heard the father sum up his impressions in one-sentence, " Quite my idea of the party's character!" To cap the Anglicanism by. a Yankeeism, it reminds us of the American who was asked what he thought of-the Venus de-Medici, and who replied, " Waal, stranger, I guess I don't care much for those stone gals."

Mr. Howells tells us that he met a smooth-shaven, smooth- mannered old Venetian, who said he had swum with Byron from the port of San Nicol° to his palace door, a distance of rather more than three miles., He does- not say that he believed- him. He does not seem to have cared much about the noble lord's aquatic prowess, which would have galled ,Byron more than, criticism of his poetry-or -even of laieprofteiency in Armenian. Bat he says very -truly that Byron himsellhatedthe reeollectionof his life in Venice, where it certain that- must havehored himself extremely. The romantic picture of Byron's life. at .Venice is-about as true as the romantic pictures of Venice itself ; and the sentences devote 1 by Macaulay to the " wild and desperate excesses ennobled by no generous or tender sentiment " into which the poet plunged, his " Venetian harem," his " midnight draughts of ardent spirits and Rhenish wines," read very well as a protest against English prudery, with its tame excesses and doctored liquor, but bear an equally coarse interpretation. Our ideal of Venice is a palace on the Grand Canal in the spring, and it is formed during two days of delicious idleness in a gondola, eating ices half- the time, and for the rest of the time seeking the cool in marble churches. Bat Byron lived in Venice during the winter, and underwent the villegiatura during the summer. His first residence was-not on the Grand Canal, but in the Frezzaria, an undesirable alley -about a yard wide, thronged from morning to night, and echoing the perpetual shuffle of feet on a layer of slime. When we compare the life we pictured with its reality; when we see that the escape from ordinary-tasks and duties leads but- to tediousness with no legitimate breaks, we should be more contented with the daily round prescribed-for each of us, and be willing -to leave imaginary joys-to the imagination.

Byron's Life gives us more than one instance of the ignorance prevailing in Italian society, and Mr. Howells has one or two anecdotes to the same effect. A lady holding a conversazione had among her guests a foreign savant, who was commended to her as being highly- virtuous. She accordingly asked him to sing, and on his surprised disclaimer of vocal powers exclaimed, " They told me you were a virtuoso! " Another story is of a father who was too stingy to keep a tutor- for his children, and whose own attempts at tuition- were not marked by very great sueeess. " Father," one of his children asked him,- " what are the stars ? "—" The stars are stars,. and little things that shine as thou seestr" -••• " Then they are candles, perhaps? "—" Make thy account that they are candles."—" Of wax or tallow?"—" Whati tallow candles in heaves? No, certainly—wax, wax " Sows people will ..say that greater depths of moral ignorance are laid bare in the following account, which certainly • testifies, to the survival of the old Italian simplicity-1— " One night, in a little street through which we -passed to 'our ferry; there came a wild rush before us, of a woman screaming for• help, and pursued byher husband with a knife in his hand; their children, shrieks ing piteously, came after them. The street was crowded with people and soldiers, but no one put out his hand ; and the man presently over- took-his wife and stabbed her in the back. We -only_knew •of.. the rash, but what it all meant we-couldmA tell, till we saw the woman bleeding from.the stab, which happily was slight. Inquiry of the bystanders developed the facts, bat, singularly enough, scarcely a word of pity. It was entirely a family affair, it seemed : the man, povareto, had a-mistress, and his wife had maddened him- with reproaches. Conie,si fa f The poor fellow had to stab her."

We must not take leave of Mr. Howells without.quotingsanir of his descriptions, in justice both to himself and to Venice :— " About nightfall came the market boats- on their -way to • the- Rialto market, bringing heaped fruits mad vegetables, frees the main land; and far into the night the soft dip of, the oar and-the gargling pregrese of the boats were company and gentlest lullaby. By which time, if, we looked- out again, we found the moon risen, and the ghost of dead Venice ehailowily-happy in haunting the lonesome palaces, and themes., which lied so-loved Venice, kissing and caressing theAide-worn marble steps, where her feet seemed to rest. At night, sometimes, we saw from our balcony one of those frescoes, which once formed the chief splendour of festive occasions in Venice,- and are peeuliar to the city where aloes their fine effects are possible. The fresco is a procession of boats with music and lights. Two immense .barges, illuminated with hundreds of paper lanterns,, carry the military bands; the barges of the civil and military dignitaries follow, and then the gondolas of such citizens as choose to take part in the-display; though sinee•1859 no Italian, 4=1683 an emplopi of the- Government, has been seen in the procession. No gondola has less than two lanterns, and many have eight or ten, shedding mellow lights of blue, and red, and purple over uniforms and silken robes. The soldiers ef the bands breathe-from their instruments music the meat perfeet and exquisite of its kind in the world ; and as the procession takes the width of the Grand Canal in its magnificent course, soft crimson flushes play upon the time-worn marble of the palaces, and die tenderly away, giving to light and then to shadow the opulent sculptures. of arch, and pillar, and spandril, and weirdly illuminating the grim and bearded visages of stone that-peer down from doorway sal window. It is,a sight more gracious and fairy than ever poet dreamed; and I feel that the lights and the music have only got into my description by name, and that you would not know them when you saw and heard. them, from anything I say."

And to think that in future we shall be able to enjoy these things without a regret. That at every turn we shall not see the stranger. That it will no longer be criminal for -Venice to amuse itself, or to make one struggle for freedom lest- St. Mark's should be bombarded. Whatever uncertainties there may be in Italy's future, this at least has been.granted her—the Austrian no longer reigns where the Snahian cud, swathe brazimsteeds.have dropped their bridles: