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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 23
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    This Venice, which was a haughty, invincible, magnificent Republic for
    nearly fourteen hundred years; whose armies compelled the world's
    applause whenever and wherever they battled; whose navies well nigh held
    dominion of the seas, and whose merchant fleets whitened the remotest
    oceans with their sails and loaded these piers with the products of every
    clime, is fallen a prey to poverty, neglect and melancholy decay. Six
    hundred years ago, Venice was the Autocrat of Commerce; her mart was the
    great commercial centre, the distributing-house from whence the enormous
    trade of the Orient was spread abroad over the Western world. To-day her
    piers are deserted, her warehouses are empty, her merchant fleets are
    vanished, her armies and her navies are but memories. Her glory is
    departed, and with her crumbling grandeur of wharves and palaces about
    her she sits among her stagnant lagoons, forlorn and beggared, forgotten
    of the world. She that in her palmy days commanded the commerce of a
    hemisphere and made the weal or woe of nations with a beck of her
    puissant finger, is become the humblest among the peoples of the earth,
    --a peddler of glass beads for women, and trifling toys and trinkets for
    school-girls and children.

    The venerable Mother of the Republics is scarce a fit subject for
    flippant speech or the idle gossipping of tourists. It seems a sort of
    sacrilege to disturb the glamour of old romance that pictures her to us
    softly from afar off as through a tinted mist, and curtains her ruin and
    her desolation from our view. One ought, indeed, to turn away from her
    rags, her poverty and her humiliation, and think of her only as she was
    when she sunk the fleets of Charlemagne; when she humbled Frederick
    Barbarossa or waved her victorious banners above the battlements of
    Constantinople.

    We reached Venice at eight in the evening, and entered a hearse belonging
    to the Grand Hotel d'Europe. At any rate, it was more like a hearse than
    any thing else, though to speak by the card, it was a gondola. And this
    was the storied gondola of Venice!--the fairy boat in which the princely
    cavaliers of the olden time were wont to cleave the waters of the moonlit
    canals and look the eloquence of love into the soft eyes of patrician
    beauties, while the gay gondolier in silken doublet touched his guitar
    and sang as only gondoliers can sing! This the famed gondola and this
    the gorgeous gondolier!--the one an inky, rusty old canoe with a sable
    hearse-body clapped on to the middle of it, and the other a mangy,
    barefooted guttersnipe with a portion of his raiment on exhibition which
    should have been sacred from public scrutiny. Presently, as he turned a
    corner and shot his hearse into a dismal ditch between two long rows of
    towering, untenanted buildings, the gay gondolier began to sing, true to
    the traditions of his race. I stood it a little while. Then I said:

    "Now, here, Roderigo Gonzales Michael Angelo, I'm a pilgrim, and I'm a
    stranger, but I am not going to have my feelings lacerated by any such
    caterwauling as that. If that goes on, one of us has got to take water.
    It is enough that my cherished dreams of Venice have been blighted
    forever as to the romantic gondola and the gorgeous gondolier; this
    system of destruction shall go no farther; I will accept the hearse,
    under protest, and you may fly your flag of truce in peace, but here I
    register a dark and bloody oath that you shan't sing. Another yelp, and
    overboard you go."

    I began to feel that the old Venice of song and story had departed
    forever. But I was too hasty. In a few minutes we swept gracefully out
    into the Grand Canal, and under the mellow moonlight the Venice of poetry
    and romance stood revealed. Right from the water's edge rose long lines
    of stately palaces of marble; gondolas were gliding swiftly hither and
    thither and disappearing suddenly through unsuspected gates and alleys;
    ponderous stone bridges threw their shadows athwart the glittering waves.
    There was life and motion everywhere, and yet everywhere there was a
    hush, a stealthy sort of stillness, that was suggestive of secret
    enterprises of bravoes and of lovers; and clad half in moonbeams and half
    in mysterious shadows, the grim old mansions of the Republic seemed to
    have an expression about them of having an eye out for just such
    enterprises as these at that same moment. Music came floating over the
    waters--Venice was complete.

    It was a beautiful picture--very soft and dreamy and beautiful. But what
    was this Venice to compare with the Venice of midnight? Nothing. There
    was a fete--a grand fete in honor of some saint who had been instrumental
    in checking the cholera three hundred years ago, and all Venice was
    abroad on the water. It was no common affair, for the Venetians did not
    know how soon they might need the saint's services again, now that the
    cholera was spreading every where. So in one vast space--say a third of
    a mile wide and two miles long--were collected two thousand gondolas, and
    every one of them had from two to ten, twenty and even thirty colored
    lanterns suspended about it, and from four to a dozen occupants. Just as
    far as the eye could reach, these painted lights were massed together
    --like a vast garden of many-colored flowers, except that these blossoms
    were never still; they were ceaselessly gliding in and out, and mingling
    together, and seducing you into bewildering attempts to follow their mazy
    evolutions. Here and there a strong red, green, or blue glare from a
    rocket that was struggling to get away, splendidly illuminated all the
    boats around it. Every gondola that swam by us, with its crescents and
    pyramids and circles of colored lamps hung aloft, and lighting up the
    faces of the young and the sweet-scented and lovely below, was a picture;
    and the reflections of those lights, so long, so slender, so numberless,
    so many-colored and so distorted and wrinkled by the waves, was a picture
    likewise, and one that was enchantingly beautiful. Many and many a party
    of young ladies and gentlemen had their state gondolas handsomely
    decorated, and ate supper on board, bringing their swallow-tailed,
    white-cravatted varlets to wait upon them, and having their tables
    tricked out as if for a bridal supper. They had brought along the
    costly globe lamps from their drawing-rooms, and the lace and silken
    curtains from the same places, I suppose. And they had also brought
    pianos and guitars, and they played and sang operas, while the plebeian
    paper-lanterned gondolas from the suburbs and the back alleys crowded
    around to stare and listen.

    There was music every where--choruses, string bands, brass bands, flutes,
    every thing. I was so surrounded, walled in, with music, magnificence
    and loveliness, that I became inspired with the spirit of the scene, and
    sang one tune myself. However, when I observed that the other gondolas
    had sailed away, and my gondolier was preparing to go overboard, I
    stopped.

    The fete was magnificent. They kept it up the whole night long, and I
    never enjoyed myself better than I did while it lasted.

    What a funny old city this Queen of the Adriatic is! Narrow streets,
    vast, gloomy marble palaces, black with the corroding damps of centuries,
    and all partly submerged; no dry land visible any where, and no sidewalks
    worth mentioning; if you want to go to church, to the theatre, or to the
    restaurant, you must call a gondola. It must be a paradise for cripples,
    for verily a man has no use for legs here.

    For a day or two the place looked so like an overflowed Arkansas town,
    because of its currentless waters laving the very doorsteps of all the
    houses, and the cluster of boats made fast under the windows, or skimming
    in and out of the alleys and by-ways, that I could not get rid of the
    impression that there was nothing the matter here but a spring freshet,
    and that the river would fall in a few weeks and leave a dirty high-water
    mark on the houses, and the streets full of mud and rubbish.

    In the glare of day, there is little poetry about Venice, but under the
    charitable moon her stained palaces are white again, their battered
    sculptures are hidden in shadows, and the old city seems crowned once
    more with the grandeur that was hers five hundred years ago. It is easy,
    then, in fancy, to people these silent canals with plumed gallants and
    fair ladies--with Shylocks in gaberdine and sandals, venturing loans upon
    the rich argosies of Venetian commerce--with Othellos and Desdemonas,
    with Iagos and Roderigos--with noble fleets and victorious legions
    returning from the wars. In the treacherous sunlight we see Venice
    decayed, forlorn, poverty-stricken, and commerceless--forgotten and
    utterly insignificant. But in the moonlight, her fourteen centuries of
    greatness fling their glories about her, and once more is she the
    princeliest among the nations of the earth.

    "There is a glorious city in the sea;
    The sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,
    Ebbing and flowing; and the salt-sea weed
    Clings to the marble of her palaces.
    No track of men, no footsteps to and fro,
    Lead to her gates! The path lies o'er the sea,
    Invisible: and from the land we went,
    As to a floating city--steering in,
    And gliding up her streets, as in a dream,
    So smoothly, silently--by many a dome,
    Mosque-like, and many a stately portico,
    The statues ranged along an azure sky;
    By many a pile, in more than Eastern pride,
    Of old the residence of merchant kings;
    The fronts of some, tho' time had shatter'd them,
    Still glowing with the richest hues of art,
    As tho' the wealth within them had run o'er."

    What would one naturally wish to see first in Venice? The Bridge of
    Sighs, of course--and next the Church and the Great Square of St. Mark,
    the Bronze Horses, and the famous Lion of St. Mark.

    We intended to go to the Bridge of Sighs, but happened into the Ducal
    Palace first--a building which necessarily figures largely in Venetian
    poetry and tradition. In the Senate Chamber of the ancient Republic we
    wearied our eyes with staring at acres of historical paintings by
    Tintoretto and Paul Veronese, but nothing struck us forcibly except the
    one thing that strikes all strangers forcibly--a black square in the
    midst of a gallery of portraits. In one long row, around the great hall,
    were painted the portraits of the Doges of Venice (venerable fellows,
    with flowing white beards, for of the three hundred Senators eligible to
    the office, the oldest was usually chosen Doge,) and each had its
    complimentary inscription attached--till you came to the place that
    should have had Marino Faliero's picture in it, and that was blank and
    black--blank, except that it bore a terse inscription, saying that the
    conspirator had died for his crime. It seemed cruel to keep that
    pitiless inscription still staring from the walls after the unhappy
    wretch had been in his grave five hundred years.

    At the head of the Giant's Staircase, where Marino Faliero was beheaded,
    and where the Doges were crowned in ancient times, two small slits in the
    stone wall were pointed out--two harmless, insignificant orifices that
    would never attract a stranger's attention--yet these were the terrible
    Lions' Mouths! The heads were gone (knocked off by the French during
    their occupation of Venice,) but these were the throats, down which went
    the anonymous accusation, thrust in secretly at dead of night by an
    enemy, that doomed many an innocent man to walk the Bridge of Sighs and
    descend into the dungeon which none entered and hoped to see the sun
    again. This was in the old days when the Patricians alone governed
    Venice--the common herd had no vote and no voice. There were one
    thousand five hundred Patricians; from these, three hundred Senators were
    chosen; from the Senators a Doge and a Council of Ten were selected, and
    by secret ballot the Ten chose from their own number a Council of Three.
    All these were Government spies, then, and every spy was under
    surveillance himself--men spoke in whispers in Venice, and no man trusted
    his neighbor--not always his own brother. No man knew who the Council of
    Three were--not even the Senate, not even the Doge; the members of that
    dread tribunal met at night in a chamber to themselves, masked, and robed
    from head to foot in scarlet cloaks, and did not even know each other,
    unless by voice. It was their duty to judge heinous political crimes,
    and from their sentence there was no appeal. A nod to the executioner
    was sufficient. The doomed man was marched down a hall and out at a
    door-way into the covered Bridge of Sighs, through it and into the
    dungeon and unto his death. At no time in his transit was he visible to
    any save his conductor. If a man had an enemy in those old days, the
    cleverest thing he could do was to slip a note for the Council of Three
    into the Lion's mouth, saying "This man is plotting against the
    Government." If the awful Three found no proof, ten to one they would
    drown him anyhow, because he was a deep rascal, since his plots were
    unsolvable. Masked judges and masked executioners, with unlimited power,
    and no appeal from their judgements, in that hard, cruel age, were not
    likely to be lenient with men they suspected yet could not convict.

    We walked through the hall of the Council of Ten, and presently entered
    the infernal den of the Council of Three.

    The table around which they had sat was there still, and likewise the
    stations where the masked inquisitors and executioners formerly stood,
    frozen, upright and silent, till they received a bloody order, and then,
    without a word, moved off like the inexorable machines they were, to
    carry it out. The frescoes on the walls were startlingly suited to the
    place. In all the other saloons, the halls, the great state chambers of
    the palace, the walls and ceilings were bright with gilding, rich with
    elaborate carving, and resplendent with gallant pictures of Venetian
    victories in war, and Venetian display in foreign courts, and hallowed
    with portraits of the Virgin, the Saviour of men, and the holy saints
    that preached the Gospel of Peace upon earth--but here, in dismal
    contrast, were none but pictures of death and dreadful suffering!--not a
    living figure but was writhing in torture, not a dead one but was smeared
    with blood, gashed with wounds, and distorted with the agonies that had
    taken away its life!

    From the palace to the gloomy prison is but a step--one might almost jump
    across the narrow canal that intervenes. The ponderous stone Bridge of
    Sighs crosses it at the second story--a bridge that is a covered tunnel
    --you can not be seen when you walk in it. It is partitioned lengthwise,
    and through one compartment walked such as bore light sentences in
    ancient times, and through the other marched sadly the wretches whom the
    Three had doomed to lingering misery and utter oblivion in the dungeons,
    or to sudden and mysterious death. Down below the level of the water, by
    the light of smoking torches, we were shown the damp, thick-walled cells
    where many a proud patrician's life was eaten away by the long-drawn
    miseries of solitary imprisonment--without light, air, books; naked,
    unshaven, uncombed, covered with vermin; his useless tongue forgetting
    its office, with none to speak to; the days and nights of his life no
    longer marked, but merged into one eternal eventless night; far away from
    all cheerful sounds, buried in the silence of a tomb; forgotten by his
    helpless friends, and his fate a dark mystery to them forever; losing his
    own memory at last, and knowing no more who he was or how he came there;
    devouring the loaf of bread and drinking the water that were thrust into
    the cell by unseen hands, and troubling his worn spirit no more with
    hopes and fears and doubts and longings to be free; ceasing to scratch
    vain prayers and complainings on walls where none, not even himself,
    could see them, and resigning himself to hopeless apathy, driveling
    childishness, lunacy! Many and many a sorrowful story like this these
    stony walls could tell if they could but speak.

    In a little narrow corridor, near by, they showed us where many a
    prisoner, after lying in the dungeons until he was forgotten by all save
    his persecutors, was brought by masked executioners and garroted, or
    sewed up in a sack, passed through a little window to a boat, at dead of
    night, and taken to some remote spot and drowned.

    They used to show to visitors the implements of torture wherewith the
    Three were wont to worm secrets out of the accused--villainous machines
    for crushing thumbs; the stocks where a prisoner sat immovable while
    water fell drop by drop upon his head till the torture was more than
    humanity could bear; and a devilish contrivance of steel, which inclosed
    a prisoner's head like a shell, and crushed it slowly by means of a
    screw. It bore the stains of blood that had trickled through its joints
    long ago, and on one side it had a projection whereon the torturer rested
    his elbow comfortably and bent down his ear to catch the moanings of the
    sufferer perishing within.

    Of course we went to see the venerable relic of the ancient glory of
    Venice, with its pavements worn and broken by the passing feet of a
    thousand years of plebeians and patricians--The Cathedral of St. Mark.
    It is built entirely of precious marbles, brought from the Orient
    --nothing in its composition is domestic. Its hoary traditions make it an
    object of absorbing interest to even the most careless stranger, and thus
    far it had interest for me; but no further. I could not go into
    ecstasies over its coarse mosaics, its unlovely Byzantine architecture,
    or its five hundred curious interior columns from as many distant
    quarries. Every thing was worn out--every block of stone was smooth and
    almost shapeless with the polishing hands and shoulders of loungers who
    devoutly idled here in by-gone centuries and have died and gone to the
    dev--no, simply died, I mean.

    Under the altar repose the ashes of St. Mark--and Matthew, Luke and John,
    too, for all I know. Venice reveres those relics above all things
    earthly. For fourteen hundred years St. Mark has been her patron saint.
    Every thing about the city seems to be named after him or so named as to
    refer to him in some way--so named, or some purchase rigged in some way
    to scrape a sort of hurrahing acquaintance with him. That seems to be
    the idea. To be on good terms with St. Mark, seems to be the very summit
    of Venetian ambition. They say St. Mark had a tame lion, and used to
    travel with him--and every where that St. Mark went, the lion was sure to
    go. It was his protector, his friend, his librarian. And so the Winged
    Lion of St. Mark, with the open Bible under his paw, is a favorite emblem
    in the grand old city. It casts its shadow from the most ancient pillar
    in Venice, in the Grand Square of St. Mark, upon the throngs of free
    citizens below, and has so done for many a long century. The winged lion
    is found every where--and doubtless here, where the winged lion is, no
    harm can come.

    St. Mark died at Alexandria, in Egypt. He was martyred, I think.
    However, that has nothing to do with my legend. About the founding of
    the city of Venice--say four hundred and fifty years after Christ--(for
    Venice is much younger than any other Italian city,) a priest dreamed
    that an angel told him that until the remains of St. Mark were brought to
    Venice, the city could never rise to high distinction among the nations;
    that the body must be captured, brought to the city, and a magnificent
    church built over it; and that if ever the Venetians allowed the Saint to
    be removed from his new resting-place, in that day Venice would perish
    from off the face of the earth. The priest proclaimed his dream, and
    forthwith Venice set about procuring the corpse of St. Mark. One
    expedition after another tried and failed, but the project was never
    abandoned during four hundred years. At last it was secured by
    stratagem, in the year eight hundred and something. The commander of a
    Venetian expedition disguised himself, stole the bones, separated them,
    and packed them in vessels filled with lard. The religion of Mahomet
    causes its devotees to abhor anything that is in the nature of pork, and
    so when the Christian was stopped by the officers at the gates of the
    city, they only glanced once into his precious baskets, then turned up
    their noses at the unholy lard, and let him go. The bones were buried in
    the vaults of the grand cathedral, which had been waiting long years to
    receive them, and thus the safety and the greatness of Venice were
    secured. And to this day there be those in Venice who believe that if
    those holy ashes were stolen away, the ancient city would vanish like a
    dream, and its foundations be buried forever in the unremembering sea.
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