Page images
PDF
EPUB

approve. The floors are of a kind of red plaster, with a brilliant glossy surface, much more beautiful than wood, and far preferable in case of fire, whose progress they are calculated to check.

The principal apartments are on the second floor. The Venetians seldom inbabit the first, which is often entirely filled with lumber : perhaps, they prefer the second, because it is farthest removed from the moisture of the lakes; or perhaps they prefer it, because it is better lighted, and more cheerful; or they may have some better reason for this preference than I am acquainted with, or can imagine. Though the inhabitants of Great Britian make use of the first floors for their chief apartments, this does not form a complete demonstration that the Venetians are in the wrong for preferring the second. When an acute sensible people universally follow one custom, in a mere matter of conveniency, however absurd that custom may appear in the eyes of a stranger at first sight, it will generally be found, that there is some real advantage in it, which compensates all the apparent inconveniences. Of this travellers, who do not hurry with too much rapidity through the countries they visit, are very sensible: for, after having had time to weigh every circumstance, they often see reason to approve what they had formerly condemned. I could illustrate this by many examples; but your own recollection must furnish

you
with
many,

that any more would be superfluous. Custom and fashion have the greatest influence on our taste of beauty or excellence of every kind. What, from a variety of causes, has become the standard in one country, is sometimes just the contrary in another. The same thing that makes a low-brimmed hat appear genteel at one time, and ridiculous at another, has made a different species of versification be accounted the model of perfection in old Rome and modern Italy, at Paris, or at London. In matters of taste, particularly in dramatic poetry, the prejudices which each particular nation acquires in favour of its own is dif ficult to be removed. People seldom obtain such a perfect

SO

1

knowledge of a foreign language and foreign manners, as to understand all the niceties of the one and the allusions to the other; of consequence, many things are insipid to them, for which a native may have a high relish.

The dialogues in rhyme of the French plays appear unnatural and absurd to Englishmen when they first attend the French theatre; yet those who 'lave remained long in France, and acquired a more perfect knowledge of the language, assure us, that without rhyme the dignity of the tragic muse cannot be supported; and that, even in comedy, they produce an additional elegance, which overbalances every objection. The French language being more studied and better understood by the English than our language is by the French nation, we find many of our countrymen who relish the beauties, and pay the just tribute of admiration to the genius of Cor. neille, while there is scarcely a single Frenchman to be found who has any idea of the merit of Shakespeare.

Without being justly accused of partiality, I may assert that, in this instance, the English display a fairness and liberality of sentiment superior to the French. The irregularities of Shakespeare's drama are obvious to every eye, and would, in the present age, be avoided by a poet not possessed of a hundredth part of his genius. His peculiar beauties, on the other hand, are of an excellence which has not, perhaps, been attained by any poet of any age or country; yet the French critics, from Voltaire down to the poorest scribbler in the literary journals, all stop at the former, declaim on the barbarous taste of the English nation, insist on the grotesque absurdity of the poet's imagination, and illustrate both by partial extracts of the most exceptionable scenes of Shakespeare's plays.

When a whole people, with that degree of judgment which even the enemies of the British nation allow them to have, unite in the highest admiration of one man, and continue, for ages, to behold his pieces with unsated delight, it might occur to those Frenchmen, that there pos. sibly was some excellence in the works of this poet, though they could not see it; and a very moderate share of cándour might have taught them, that it would be more ben coming to spare their ridicule, till they acquired a little more knowledge of the author against whom it is pointed.

An incident which occurred since my arrival at Venice, though founded on a prejudice much more excusable than the conduct of the critics above, mentioned, has brought home to my conviction the rashness of those who form opinions, without the knowledge requisite to direct their judgment.

I had got, I don't know how, the most contemptuous opinion of the Italian drama. I had been told, there was not a tolerable actor at present in Italy, and I had been long taught to consider their comedy as the most despicable stuff in the world, which could not amuse, or even draw a smile from any person of taste, being quite destitute of true humour, full of ribaldry, and only proper for the meanest of the vulgar. Impressed with these sentiments, and eager to give his Grace a full demonstration of their justness, I accompanied the duke of Hamilton to the stage-box of one of the playhouses the very day of our arrival at Venice.

The piece was a comedy, and the most entertaining character in it was that of a man who stuttered. In this defect, and in the singular grimaces with which the actor accompanied it, consisted a great part of the amusement.

Disgusted at such a pitiful substitution for wit and humour, I expressed a contempt for an audience which could be entertained by such buffoonery, and who could take pleasure in the exhibition of a natural infirmity.

While we inwardly indulged sentiments of self-approbation, on account of the refinement and superiority of our own taste, and supported the dignity of those sentiments by a disdainful gravity of countenance, the stutter, er was giving a piece of information to Harlequin which greatly interested him, and to which he listened with every mark of eagerness. This unfortunate speaker had just arrived at the most important part of his narrative,

any other

which was, to acquaint the impatient listener where his mistress was concealed, when he unluckily stumbled on a word of six or seven syllables, which completely obstructed the progress of his narration.

of his narration. He attempted it again and again, but always without success. You may have observed that, though many other words would explain his meaning equally well, you may as soon make a saint change his religion, as prevail on a stutterer to accept of another word in place of that at which he has stumbled. He adheres to his first word to the last, and will sooner expire with it in his throat, than give it up

for you may offer. Harlequin, on the present occasion, presented his friend with a dozen; but he rejected them all with disdain, and persisted in his unsuccessful attempts on that which had first come in his way. At length, making a desperate effort, when all the spectators were gaping in expectation of his safe delivery, the cruel word came up with its broad side foremost, and stuck directly across the unhappy man's wind-pipe. He gaped, and panted, and croaked; his face flushed, and his eyes seemed ready to start from his head. Harlequin unbuttoned the stutterer's waistcoat, and the neck of his shirt; he fanned his face with his cap, and held a bottle of hartshorn to his nose. At length, fearing his patient would expire, before he could give the desired intelligence, in a fit of despair he pitched his head full in the dying man's stomach, and the word bolted out of his mouth to the most distant part of the house.

This was performed in a manner so perfectly droll, and the humorous absurdity of the expedient came so unex. pectedly upon me, that I immediately burst into a most excessive fit of laughter, in which I was accompanied by the duke, and by your young friend Jack, who was along with us; and our laughter continued in such loud, violent, and repeated fits, that the attention of the audience being turned from the stage to our box, occasioned a renewal of the mirth all over the playhouse with greater vociferation than at first.

When we returned to the inn, the duke of Hamilton asked me, if I were as much convinced as ever, that a man must be perfectly devoid of taste, who could condescend to laugh at an Italian comedy ?

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

We were detained at Venice several days longer than we intended, by excessive falls of rain, which rendered the road to Verona impassable. Relinquishing, therefore, the thoughts of visiting that city for the present, the duke determined to go to Ferrara by water. For this purpose I engaged two barks; in one of which the chaises, baggage, and some of the servants, proceeded directly to Ferrara, while we embarked in the other for Padua.

Having crossed the Lagune, we entered the Brenta, but could continue our route by that river no farther than the village of Doglio, where there is a bridge; but the waters were so much swelled by the late rains, that there was not room for our boat to pass below the arch. Quito ting the boat, therefore, till our return, we hired two on pen chaises, and continued our journey along the banks of the Brenta to Padua.

Both sides of this river display gay, luxuriant scenes of magnificence and fertility, being ornamented by a great variety of beautiful villas, the works of Palladio and his disciples. The verdure of the meadows and gardens here is not surpassed by that of England.

The Venetian nobility, I am told, live with less restraint, and entertain their friends with greater freedom, at their villas, than at their palaces in town. It is natural to suppose, that a Venetian must feel peculiar satisfaction when his affairs permit him to enjoy the exhilarating view of green fields, and to breath the free air of the country,

'As one who long in populous city pent, Where houses thick, and sewers, annoy the air,

« PreviousContinue »