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The Grand Canal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The faces in the window look out at the great Sansovino--the
splendid pile that is now occupied by the Prefect. I feel
decidedly that I don't object as I ought to the palaces of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their pretensions impose
upon me, and the imagination peoples them more freely than it can
people the interiors of the prime. Was not moreover this
masterpiece of Sansovino once occupied by the Venetian post-
office, and thereby intimately connected with an ineffaceable
first impression of the author of these remarks? He had arrived,
wondering, palpitating, twenty-three years ago, after nightfall,
and, the first thing on the morrow, had repaired to the post-
office for his letters. They had been waiting a long time and
were full of delayed interest, and he returned with them to the
gondola and floated slowly down the Canal. The mixture, the
rapture, the wonderful temple of the poste restante, the
beautiful strangeness, all humanised by good news--the memory of
this abides with him still, so that there always proceeds from
the splendid waterfront I speak of a certain secret appeal,
something that seems to have been uttered first in the sonorous
chambers of youth. Of course this association falls to the
ground--or rather splashes into the water--if I am the victim of
a confusion. Was the edifice in question twenty-three
years ago the post-office, which has occupied since, for many a
day, very much humbler quarters? I am afraid to take the proper
steps for finding out, lest I should learn that during these
years I have misdirected my emotion. A better reason for the
sentiment, at any rate, is that such a great house has surely, in
the high beauty of its tiers, a refinement of its own. They make
one think of colosseums and aqueducts and bridges, and they
constitute doubtless, in Venice, the most pardonable specimen of
the imitative. I have even a timid kindness for the huge Pesaro,
far down the Canal, whose main reproach, more even than the
coarseness of its forms, is its swaggering size, its want of
consideration for the general picture, which the early examples
so reverently respect. The Pesaro is as far out of the frame as a
modern hotel, and the Cornaro, close to it, oversteps almost
equally the modesty of art. One more thing they and their kindred
do, I must add, for which, unfortunately, we can patronise them
less. They make even the most elaborate material civilisation of
the present day seem woefully shrunken and bourgeois, for
they simply--I allude to the biggest palaces--can't be lived in
as they were intended to be. The modern tenant may take in all
the magazines, but he bends not the bow of Achilles. He occupies
the place, but he doesn't fill it, and he has guests from the
neighbouring inns with ulsters and Baedekers. We are far at the
Pesaro, by the way, from our attaching window, and we take
advantage of it to go in rather a melancholy mood to the end.
The long straight vista from the Foscari to the Rialto, the
great middle stretch of the Canal, contains, as the phrase is, a
hundred objects of interest, but it contains most the bright
oddity of its general Deluge air. In all these centuries it has
never got over its resemblance to a flooded city; for some reason
or other it is the only part of Venice in which the houses look
as if the waters had overtaken them. Everywhere else they reckon
with them--have chosen them; here alone the lapping seaway seems
to confess itself an accident.

[Illustration: PALAZZO MONCENIGO, VENICE]

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

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

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

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

1892.

Henry James