Page images

ence very early on a day so hot, that at eight in the morning the sun was almost intolerable. We passed Pistoijathe little city standing compact amidst the green landscape looked so like the model which the Patron Saint of a city holds in his hand, that one felt as though one could take it up bodilyand then we soon began to approach the Apennines. The railway crosses them by scores of tunnels, out of which we flashed every now and then into a few moments of dazzling sunshine, to see a brief vision of torrent and rock and hanging wood-and then back again into another of the most stifling tunnels I ever experienced. They were even worse than the Metropolitan Railway at Portland Road. It was impossible to breathe the foul air of these tunnels, but when we shut the windows there seemed to be no air to breathe at all. No one whose lungs are affected should ever attempt that journey-at any rate, in summer weather. I do not know if it is as bad at other times.

But the glimpses we caught, between the tunnels, of the very heart of the Apennines were ravishing-great sunny sides of rock, bush-grown and water-stained-broad shallow streams flowing over pebbly beds-trees darkly, richly green, growing in seeming impossible places, all steeped in a glory of colour, so warm and joyous that the wild mountain landscape seemed to be laughing in the sun. We were being stewed, broiled, baked, and suffocated, but we remember our sufferings very waguely now-as we look back on that day, we

seem to be always just dashing out of the hot, stifling darkness into a wild but never barren mountain solitude.

At last the Apennines were left behind, and we were speeding on towards Bologna, seeing miles and miles away the great monastery of San Luca, like a city in itself, on the high hill behind the town. We had but just time for a hasty drive into Bologna-which may remind English travellers of Chester, by its many colonnades; and then wo went on-while the coolness of evening began to succeed the heat of the day-across the great plain of Ferrara. Glorious as are mountains, there is an odd kind of relief, which many people have confessed to feeling, in the change to a wide-spreading plain. The eye seems glad to have so far to wander; and certainly the rich and fertile plains of Ferrara are flat enough and wide enough to rest one's eyes on. Far, far away we could see the low outlines of the Euganean Hills, but all else was as level as the palm of one's hand. The hills grew a little higher as we approached; but the country at their feet, stretching away from ther northward, became flatter still, if flatness can become flatter; and we began to fancy we could smell the salt air blowing in from the Great Lagoon. Above us was a great cool skywhich seems to be pitched higher in Italy than anywhere else with the first star or two just visible, if you looked for them. There was a delicious coolness in the air-as though the wind had had a long way to blow-and the delicate greyness of the gathering twilight was full of rest.

And then the twilight began to be alive with eyes, not only up in heaven, but down on earth. The long low hedges and marsh-walls were fairly alight with glowworms. There were myriads of



them; ore could trace the banks by them as one traces a city street by the lamps. As we drew nearer and nearer to the lagoon, and the mists crept up over the plain, we could still see the glowworms twinkling everywhere. It might have been a fairy illumination.

We were so busy looking at this wonderful show of glowworms, that we had hardly noticed when the moon rose, but now, as the twilight faded more and more, and the gentle slopes of the Euganean Hills were only cloudy shadows behind

us, the moon came up out of the mists that lay along the horizon, and made a sort of silver day. We could see ahead of us the broad expanse of the lagoon, shining like molten silver, and out in the middle of it a cluster of lights, and we knew that that was VENICE-Venice, the queen and bride of the Adriatic, the city of merchant princes, the halfway house between the East and the West, the proud Republic, great in all the arts of peace and war, the bulwark of Christendom-the Turk could never conquer her, but faction destroyed her, and Spain and Austria long ground her under their remorseless heels-venerable, romantic, magnificent, mysterious Venice!

We stopped for a few moments at the last station, on the very edge of the lagoon. In the lighted darkness of the summer night, with the freshening breeze blowing in from the Adriatic, the long narrow bridge of the viaduct, which we could not see, but which we knew spanned the lagoon, and over which we must pass to Venice, gave one a strange unearthly sense of the unknown, and made one think of the Bridge of Death which spans the space between Time and Eternity.



This strange sensation of having left the world behind grew even stronger as the train left the land, and we found ourselves slowly steaming out into the lagoon. On each side of us lay the vast unrippled expanse of water, touched here and there by the moon now well risen over Venice.

[graphic][merged small][subsumed]
[graphic][merged small][ocr errors]

And so, on-over the waterway, until we reached the station, and gave up our tickets, and got our luggage, and, stepping into the gondola waiting to take us to our hotel, seemed to have at the same time stepped into another century.

That first half-hour in Venice can never be forgotten; but when we try to recall it, we can only see a confusion of high-towering palaces, between which the gondolier guided his gondola, uttering strange musical cries whenever he turned a corner. "Sta-li! Sta-li!" black shadows below, and above us a sky which the moon made blue at midnight. But though it was midnight, Venice was awake-who could sleep in such a night? One can sleep in Venice by day. And then, suddenly, we came out on the Grand Canal, with its stately palaces, white in the moonlight, and unfathomably black in the shadow. Gondolas gliding here and there across the broad, glittering water, and vanishing like black phantoms down some side-canal, gondolas lying moored by palace-steps-sometimes with dusky forms dimly to be perceived lying asleep in them-gondolas everywhere. We glided on as in a dream, and as in a dream we landed-somewhere-at some steps —and went in-somewhere-to an hotel, where we noted, with the feeble, unsurprised surprise of a dream, that the waiters were not in doublet and hose, but wore swallow-tailed coats, as though this were only Milan or Turin. We went to bed, but we could not sleep; it seemed to us that the

whole of the Dramatis Persona of the "Merchant of Venice" were walking to and fro under our windows. We thought we heard Gratiano say, in soft Venetian speech,

"This is the pent house, under which Lorenzo desir'd us to make stand."

And Salarino answer, in a rather sleepy tone,

"His hour is almost past."

And a little later, a noise, which sounded like a very old man's, quavered out,

"Master-young gentleman-I pray you, which is the way to Master Jew's?"

Then Gratiano passed again-this time he was with Bassanio. I heard him say,

"You must not deny me; I must go with you to Belmont." And Bassanio reply-rather bluntly,

Why then, you must; but hear thee, thou art too wild, too rude, too bold of voice-and where thou art not known-"

I lost the rest, as they moved on. Next, I heard a voice, which sounded like a Jew's, cry angrily, "Tell me not of mercy-this is the fool that lent out money


Some time after this-indeed, day had begun to

almost inarticulate fury,

bolts and bars undrawn, a sound of creaking hinges, and the same voice which had smacked so strong of the Hebrew Persuasion (O reporter for the daily press, I thank thee for that delicious phrase!) screamed, rather than cried, in in accents of

"My daughter! my ducats! A sealed bagtwo sealed bags of ducats-of double ducats, stol'n from me by my daughter! And jewelstwo stones-two rich and precious stones-stol'n by my daughter! Fled with a Christian ? Oh, my Christian ducats! Justice! Find the girl! She hath the stones upon her-"

A burst of derisive laughter interrupted the old man, and fairly roused us up, to find that the sun was shining, and that there was a perfect Babel of voices in the back street into which one of our windows unfortunately looked.

The gondola was waiting for us at the steps by the church of Saint Moses. John Law, of the great South Sea Bubble, lies buried close by its western door. We got into the gondola, and a few turns brought us out into the Grand Canal-a water-street of palaces. Last night, by the beams of the full moon of May, it was wrapped in mysterious glamour; now, in the broad morning brightness, it is the reality of all poetic dreams and all painters' visions. Venice is all we ever imagined her-even, alas! to her evil


We glided down the silent highway, now all alive with gondolas, single and double, private and public, with great barges and feluccas, with rustred sails-past the palaces, all asleep in the sun, their gay-coloured blinds-"Venetian blinds" -as closely drawn as eyelids over sleeping eyes. Palace after palace-the Bembo, the Grimani, the Contarini, the Foscari, the Guistiniani-as the gondolier runs glibly over each historical name, the dreams of the night come back. There is one exquisite little palace, which is said, I fear without much warrant, to have belonged to old Brabantio, Desdemona's father; and no gondolier ever fails to show his English passengers the centre one of the three Mocenigo palaces, where milor Byron lived, when he was in Venice. Then there is the beautiful Ca' d'Oro, the Golden House, for five hundred years one of the glories of Venice. But the glory is departed, the palaces are empty, or turned into hotels, the mosaics of Saint Mark have been "restored," and a speculator wants to start a steamer to ply up and down the Grand Canal.

The Grand Canal comes out upon the lagoon. We have all seen it painted a hundred timespainted according to the measure of the artist's seeing-in colours warmer or colder, by the light of early morning, or noon, or sunset. Over there is the dome of Santa Maria della Salute, built after the great plague of 1631; and a little beyond, on another island, the tower of Saint George; and just opposite, the Royal Gardens, the Palace of the Doges, the columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodorus, the great Campanile, and the topmost domes and pinnacles of the Cathedral. As we glide past the long arcades of the Ducal Palace, we look up a narrow side canal, and see spanning it the Bridge of Sighs. Beyond, the long line of the Riva de' Schiavoni stretches away to where the trees of the Public Gardens rise cool and green above the water.

Looking seaward, the low lines of the outlying islands show faintly behind a forest of masts-for


wherever one looks one sees shipping, di and sailors of all nations hang about the quays. A whole fleet of gondolas lies around the steps of the Piazzetta, as we land. The Grand Piazza is a blaze of sunshine,


[merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small]

of the four bronze horses-the only horses in Venice-above the central portal. A score or so of English sailors-most of them mere lads-with a good-natured looking officer shepherding them, come swinging out of the side-door, their honest faces full of admiring wonder. We saw their ship just now, lying at anchor opposite San Giorgio. And so we step out of the blinding glare of the Piazza into the dim and solemn coolness of the great church-we see it to-day for the first time, but we have known it all our lives.

In that dim coolness how many thoughts crowd


on its ancient columns, scarcely disturbed by a stray nineteenth century sunbeam which has come in somewhere, and for a few fleeting moments hangs about the high altar in a golden mist. Yes, the church is large enough to hold all its memories. A great silence falls on the spirit. These venerable and reverend walls have seen the changing fortunes of a thousand years. Moving in solemn procession up these solemn aisles, doges have come to invoke Heaven's blessing on the fleets of Venice, or to sing Te Deums for victory over the infidel Turk. The ancient pavement is

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »