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nished from 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.
The husbands seem at last convinced, that the chastity of their wives is safest under their own guardianship, and that when a woman thinks her honour not worth her own regard, it is still more unworthy of his. This advantage, with many others, must arise from the present system ; that when a husband believes that his wife has faithfully adhered to her conjugal engagement, he has the additional satisfaction of knowing, that she acts from a love to him, or some honourable motive; whereas, formerly, a Venetian husband could not be certain that he was not obliged, for his wife's chastity, to iron bars, bolts, and padlocks.
Could any man imagine, that a woman, whose chastity was preserved by such means only, was, in fact, more respectable than a common prostitute ? The old plan of distrust and confinement, without even securing what was its object, must have had a strong tendency to debase the minds of both the husband and the wife; for what man, whose mind was not perfectly abject, could have pleasure in the society of a wife, who, to his own conviction, languished to be in the arms of another man ? Of all the humble employments that ever the wretched sons of Adam submitted to, surely that of watching a wife from morning to night, and all night too, is the most perfectly humiliating. Such ungenerous distrust must also have had the worst effect on the minds of the women; made them view their gaolers with disgust and horror; and we ought not to be much surprised if some preferred the common gondoleers of the lakes, and the vagrants of the streets, to such husbands. Along with jealousy, poison and the stiletto have been banished from Venetian gallantry, and the innocent mask is substituted in their places. According to the best information I have received, this same mask is a much more innocent matter than is generally imagined. In general it is not intended 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 same colour, over the shoulders, a man is sufficiently dressed for any assembly at: Venice.
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 refined 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 basin of warm restorative soup seems more expedient than the most 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 of mystery, was conducting a female mask into his cassino. 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 as 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 salices, sed se cupit ante videri. You have heard, no doubt, of those little apartments, near St. Mark's Place, 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 told to strangers concerning them. Those tales are certainly not believed by the Venetians themselves, the proof of which is, that the cassinos 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 I believe, after all we have heard of the profligacy of Venetian manners, that women, even of indifferent reputations, would attend cassinos in the open manner they do, if it were understood that more liberties were taken with them there than else. where.
The opening before St. Mark's church is the only place in Venice where a great number of people can assemble. It is the fashion to walk here a great part of the evening, to enjoy the music, and other amusements; and although there are coffeehouses, and Venetian manners permit ladies, as well as gentlemen, to frequent them, yet it was natural for the noble and most wealthy to prefer little apartments 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 palaces. 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 is 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 same time, that the government encourages this profligacy, to relax and dissipate the minds of the people, and prevent their planning, or attempting, any thing against the constitution. 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 last piece of refinement, however, is no more than a conjecture of some theoretical politicians, who are apt to take facts for granted, without suffi, cient proof, and afterwards display their ingenuity in accounting for them. That the Venetians are more given to sensual pleasures than the inhabitants of London, Paris, or Berlin, I imagine will be difficult to prove ; but as the state inquisitors do not think proper, and the ecclesiastical are not allowed, to interfere in the affairs of gallantry; as a great number of strangers assemble twice or thrice a year at Venice, merely for the sake of amusement; and, above all, as it is the custom to go about in masks, an idea prevails, that the manners are more licentious here than elsewhere. I have had occasion to observe, that this custom of wearing a mask, by conveying the ideas of concealment and intrigue, has contributed greatly to give some people an impression of Venetian profligacy. But, for my own part, it is not a piece of white or black paper, with distorted features, that I suspect, having often found the most complete worthlessness concealed under a smooth smiling piece of human skin.
I Ax very sensible, that it requires a longer residence at Venice, and better opportunities than I have had, to enable me to give a character of the Venetians. But were I to form an idea of them from what I have seen, I should paint them as a lively ingenious people, extravagantly fond of public amusements, with an uncommon relish for humour, and yet more attached to the real enjoyments of life, than to those which depend on ostentation, and proceed from vanity.
The common people of Venice display some qualities very rarely to be found in that sphere of life, being remarkably sober, obliging to strangers, and gentle in their intercourse with each other. The Venetians in general are tall and well made. Though equally robust, they are not so corpulent as the Germans. The latter also are of fair complexions, with light-grey or blue eyes; whereas the Venetians are for the most part of a ruddy brown colour, with dark eyes. You meet in the streets of Venice many fine manly countenances, resembling those transmitted to us by the pencils of Paul Veronese and Titian. The women are of a fine style of countenance, with expressive features, and a skin of a rich carnation, They dress their hair in a fanciful manner, which becomes them very much. They are of an easy address, and have no aversion to cultivating an acquaintance with those strangers, who are presented to them by their relations, or have been properly recommended.
Strangers are under less restraint here, in many particulars, than the native inhabitants. I have known some, who, after having tried most of the capitals of Europe, have preferred to live at Venice, on account of the variety of amusements, the gentle manners of the inhabitants, and the perfect freedom allowed in every thing, except in blaming the measures of government. I have already mentioned in what manner the Venetians are in danger of being treated who give themselves that liberty. When a stranger is so imprudent as to declaim against the form or the measures of government, he will either receive a message to leave the territories of the state, or one of the sbirri will be sent to accompany him to the pope's or the emperor's dominions.
The houses are thought inconvenient by many of the English ; they are better calculated, however, for the climate of Italy, than if they were built according to the London model, which, I suppose, is the plan those critics