Page images

always without success. You may Jack, who was along with us; have observed that, though many and our laughter continued in other words would explain his such loud, violent, and repeated meaning equally well, you may as fits, that the attention of the autoon make a faint change his reli- dience being turned from the stage gion, as prevail on a stutterer to to our box, occasioned a renewal accept of another word in place of of the mirth all over the playhouse that at which he has stumbled, with greater vociferation than at lie adheres to his first word to the first.

last, and will sooner expire with The number of playhouses in it in his throat, than give it up for Venice is very extraordinary, conany other you may offer. Harle- sidering the size of the town, which quin, on the present occasion, is not thought to contain above presented his friend with a dozen; one hundred and fifty thousand but he rejected them all with dis- inhabitants, yet there are eight dain, and persisted in his ur.suc- or nine theatres here, including cessful attempts on that, which the opera-houses. You pay a tritie had first come in his way. At at the door for admittance; this, length, making a desperate effort, entitles you to go into the pit, when all the spectators were gap- where 'you may look about, and ing in expectation of his safe de- determine what part of the house livery, the crvel word came up you will sit in. There are rows with its broad side foremost, and of chairs placed in the front of the stuck directly across die unhappy pit, next the orchestra; the feats man's wind-pipe. He gaped, and of these chairs are folded to their panted, and croaked; his face backs, and fastened by a lock. Hustied, and his eyes seemed ready Those who choose to take them, to start from his head. Harlequin pay a little more money to the unbuttoned the stutterer's waist- door-keeper, who immediately uncoat, and the neck of his shirt; locks the feat. Very decent-lookhe fanned his face with his cap, ing people occupy these chairs; and held a bottle of hartshorn to but the. back part of the pit is filled his nose. At length, fearing his with footmen and gondoliers, in patient would expire, before he their common working cloches, could give the desired intelligence, The nobility, and better fort of in a fit of despair he pitched his cit'zens, have boxes retained for head full in the dying man's sto- the year; but there are always 4 mach, and the word bolted out of sufficient number to be let to his mouth to the most distant part strangers: the price of those vaos the house. ries every night, according to the This was performed in a manner season of the year, and the piece so perfectly droll, and the hu- acted.

morous absurdity of the expedient A Venetian playhouse hat a dis

came so unexpectedly upon me, mal appearance in the eyes of peo-..

that 1 immediately burst into a pie accustomed to the brilliancy of

most excessive fit of laughter, in those of London. Many of the

which 1 was accompanied by the boxes are so dark, that the faces

D—, and by your young friend of the company in them can hardly

B 2 ku

be distinguished at a little distance, even when they do not wear masks. The stage, however, is well illuminated, so that the people in the boxes can fee, perfectly well, every thing that is transacted there; and when they choose to be seen themselves, they order lights into their boxes. Between the acts you sometimes fee ladies walking about, with their Cavalieri Serventes, in the back part of tbe pit, when it is not crowded. As they are masked, they do not scruple to reconnoitre the company, with their spying-glasses, from this place: when the play begins, they return to their boxes. This continual moving about from box to box, and between the boxes and the pit, must create some confusion, and, no doubt, is disagreeable to those who attend merely on account of the piece. There must, however, be sound some douceur in the midst of all this obscurity and confusion, which, in the opinion of the majority of the audience, overbalances these obvious inconveniences.

The music of the opera here, is reckoned as sine as in any town in Italy; and, at any rate, is far superior to the praise of so very poor a judge as I am. The dramatic and poetical parts of those pieces are little regarded; the poet is allowed to indulge himself in as many anachronisms, and other inconsistencies, as he pleases. Provided the music receives the approbation of the critic's ear, his judgment is not offended with any absurdities in the other parts of the composition. The celebrated Me, tastasio has disdained to avail himself of this indulgence in his •peras, which are fine dramatic

compositions. He has preserved the alliance which ought always to subsist between sense and music.

At the comic opera I have sometimes seen action alone excite the highest applause, independent of eicher the poetry or the music I saw a duo performed by an old man and a young woman, sopposed to be his daughter, in such an humorous manner, as drew an universal encora from the spectators. The merit of the musical part of the composition, I was .told, was but very moderate, and as for the sentiment you shall judge.

The father informs his daughter, in a song, that he has found an excellent match for her; who, besides being rich, and very prudent, and not too young, was over and above -a particular friend of his own, and in person and disposition much such a man as himself; he concludes, by telling her, that the ceremony will be performed next day. She thanks him, in the gayest air possible, for his obliging intentions, adding, that site should have been glad to have (hewn her implicit obedience to his commands, provided there had been any chance of the man's being to her caste; but as, from the account he had given, there could be none, (he declares (he will not marry him next day, and adds, with a •very lung quaver, that if (he were to live to eternity (he (hould continue of the fame opinion. The father, in a violent rage, tells her, that instead of tomorrow, the marriage (hould take place that very day; to which (he replies, non: he rejoins, £; (he, non, non; he, si, si j the daughter, non, non, non; the father.

ther, si, si, si; and so the singing continues for five or fix minutest You perceive there h nothing marvellously witty in this; and for a dau. hier to be of a different opinion from her fa:hex, in the choice - of a hulband, is not a very new dramatx incident. Well, I told you (he duo was encored — they immediately performed it a second tine, and with more humour than the first. The whole house vociferated for it again; and it was fung a third time in a manner equally pleas.nt, and yet perfectly different from any of the former two.

I thought the house would, have been brought down about our ears, so extrav gant were the testimonies of approbation.

The two actors were obliged to appear again, and sing this duo a fourth time; which they executed in a style so new, lo natural, and so exquisitely droll, that the audience now thought there had been something deficient in all their former performances, and that they had hit oo the true comic only this last time.

Some people began to call for it again; but the old man, now quite exhausted, begged for mercy; on which the point was given •p. I never before had any idea that such strong comic powers could hare been displayed in the singing of a song.

-Though the Venerian government is still under the influence of jealousy, that gloomy dæmon is now entirely banished freun the bosoms of individuals. Instead of the confinement in which women were formerly kept at Venice, they now enjoy a degree of freedom unknown even at Paris. Of the two

extremes, the present, without doubt, is the preferable.

Along with jealousy, poison and the Jliltite have been banished from Venetian gallantry, and .the innocent mask is substituted in their places. According to the best information I have received, this s me mask is a much more innocent matter than is generally imagined. In general it is not in-' tended to conceal the person who wears it, but only used as an apology for his not being in full dress. With a mask stuck in the hat, and a kind of black mantle, trimmed with lace of the fame colour, over the Ihoulders, a man is sufficiently dressed for any assembly at Venice.' i

Those who walk the streets, or go to the playhouses with masks actually covering their faces, are either engaged in some love intrigue, or would have the spectators think so; for this is a piece of affectation which prevails here, as well as elsewhere; and I have been assured, by those who have resided many years at Venice, that rtfintd gentlemen, who are fond of the reputation, though they shrink from the catastrophe of an intrigue, are no uncommon characters here; and I believe it the more readily, because I daily see many feeble gentlemen tottering about in masks, for whom a bason of warm restorative soup seems more expedient than the moll beautiful woman in Venice.

One evening at St. Mark's place, when a gentleman of my acquaintance was giving an account of this curious piece of affectation, he desired me to take notice of a Venetian nobleman of his acquaintance, who, with an air

»3 of

of mystery, was conducting • female mask into his caflirio. My acquaintance knew him perfectly well, and assured me he was the most innocent creature with women he had ever been acquainted with. When this gallant person perceived that we were looking at him, his mask fell to the ground, at if by accident; and after we had got a complete view of his countenance, he put it on with much hurry, and immediately rushed, with his partner, into the cassino.

—Fugit ad lalices, fed fe cupit .ntevidcri.

You have heard, no doubt, of those little apartments near St. Mark's pbee, called cassinos. They have the misfortune to labour under a very bad reputation; they are accused of being temples entirely consecrated to lawless love, and a thousand scandalous tales are K Id to strangers concerning them. Those tales are certainly not believed by the Venetians themselves, the proof of which is, that the casfinos are, allowed to exist; for I hold it. perfectly absurd to imagine,, that men would suffer their wives to enter such places, if they were not convinced that those stories were ill founded; nor can 1 believe, after all we have heard of the profligacy of Venetian naanr.ers, that women, even -q( indifferent reputations, would attend casjiuos in tne open manner they do, if it were underskpd ,that. roqre.liberties were taken with them there than elsewhere.

The opening beforft St. Mark's church is the only place in Venice where a great number of people .can assen ble, It is the fashion ro .walk here a great part 6/ the evening. V> fBJay tJw music, and other

amusements; and although there are coffee-houses, and Venetian manners permit ladies, as well as gentlemen, to freqaent them, yet it was natural for the noble and most wealthy to prefer little apart* ments of their own, where, without being exposed to intrusion, they may entertain a few friends in a more easy and unceremonious manner than they could do at their pilaccs. Instead of going home to a formal supper, and returning afterwards to this place of amusement, they order coffee, lemonade, fruit, and other refreshments, to the cassino.

That those little apartments may be occasionally used for the purposes of intrigue, is not improbable: but that this it the ordinary and avowed purpose for which they are frequented is, of all things, the least credible.

Some writers who have Described the manners of the Venetians, as more profligate than those of other nations, assert at the fame time, that the government encourages . this profligacy, to relax and dissipate the minds of the people, and prevent their planning, or attempting any *ng against the conlfitution. Were this the case, it could not be denied, that the Venetian legislators display their patriotism in a very extraordinary manner, and have fallen upon as extraordinary means of rendering their people good subjects. They first erect a despotic court to guard the public liberty, and next they corrupt the morals of the people, to keep them from plotting against the state. This lat! piece of refinement, however, is no more than a conjecture of some theoretical politicians, who are apt to


take facts for granted, without sufficient proof, and afterwards display their ingenuity in accounting for them. That the Venetians are ••ore given to sensual pleasures than the inhabitants of London, Paris, or Berlin, I imagine will be difficult to prove; but as the (late inquisitors do not think proper, ana the ecclesiastical are not allowed to interfere in affairs of gallantry j as a great number of strangers assemble twice or thrice a year at Venice, merely for the fake of amusement; and, above all, as it is the custom to go about in masks au idea prevails, the manners are more licentious here than elsewhere. \

[ocr errors][merged small]

IN their external deportment, the Italians have a grave solemnity of manner, which is sometimes thought to arise from a natural gloominess of disposition. The French, above all other nations, are apt to impute to melancholy, the sedate serious air which accompanies reflection.

Though in the pulpit, on the theatre, and even in common conversation, the Italians make use of a great deal of action; yet Italian vivacity is different from French; the former proceeds from sensibility, the latter from animal spirits.

The inhabitants of this country have not the brisk look, and elastic trip, which is universal in France; they move rather with a slow composed pace: their spines, never having been forced into a straight line, retain the natural bend; and the people of the most

finished fashion, as well as the neglected vulgar, seem to prefer the. unconstrained attitude of the Antinous, ar.J other antique statues, to the artificial graces of a French dancing master, or the erect strut of a German soldier. I imagine I perceive a great resemblance between many of the l'ving countenances 1 fee daily, and the sea" tures of the ancient biists and statues; which le.ids me to believe, that there are a gre.ter number of the genuine descendants of the old,. Romans in Italy, thin is generally, imagined.

I am often struck with the fine character of countenance to be seen in the streets of Rome. 1 never saw features more expressive of reflection, fense, and genius; in the very lowest ranks there are countenances which announce minds fit for the highest and most important situations; and we cannot help regretting, that those to whom they belong, have not received an education adequate to the natural abilities we are convinced thiy possess, and been placed where these abilities' could be brought into action.

Of all the countries in Europe, Switzerland is that, in which the beauties of nature appear in th# greatest variety of ftrms, and on the most magnificent xaie; in that country, therefore, the young landscape painter has the be:l chance of seizing the most sublime ideas: but Italy is the best school for the history painter, not only on account os its being enriched with the works of the grea;est mailers;, and the noblest models of antique sculpture; but also on account of the fine expressive style of the Italian countenance. 'B 4 Strangers,

« PreviousContinue »