« ZurückWeiter »
heard of five orders: but there are only two real orders; and there never can be any more till doomsday. On one of these orders the ornament is convex: those are Doric, Norman, and what else you recollect of the kind. On the other the orna ment is concave; those are Corinthian, Early English, Deco rated, and what else you recollect of that kind.
The work of the Lombard was to give hardihood and sys tern to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Christendom; that of the Arab was to punish idolatry, and to proclaim the spirituality of worship. The Lombard covered every church which he built with the sculptured representations of bodily exercises—hunting and war. The Arab banished all imagination of creature form from his temples, and proclaimed from their minarets, "There is no god but God." Opposite in their cha racter and mission, alike in their magnificence of energy, they came from the North and from the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream; they met and contended over the wreck of the Roman empire; and the very centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, the dead water of the opposite eddies, charged with embayed fragments of the Roman wreck, is Venice.
The Ducal Palace of Venice contains the three elements in exactly equal proportions—the Roman, Lombard, and Arab. It is the central building of the world.
Now Venice, as she was once the most religious, was in her fall the most corrupt, of European states; and as she was in her strength the centre of the pure currents of Christian architec ture, so she is in her decline the source of the Renaissance.
Come, then, if truths such as these are worth our thoughts; come, and let us know, before we enter the streets of the Sea City, whether we are indeed to submit ourselves to their undistinguished enchantment, and to look upon the last changes which were wrought on the lifted forms of her palaces, as we should on the capricious towering of summer clouds in the sunset, ere they sank into the deep of night; or whether rather, we shall not behold in the brightness of their accumu lated marble, pages on which the sentence of her luxury waa to be written until the waves should efface it, as they fulfilled —" God has numbered thy kingdom, and finished it."
Since the first dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, ol' mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the first of these great powers only the memory remains; of the second, the ruin; the third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction.
The exaltation, the sin, and the punishment of Tyre, have been recorded for us, in perhaps the most touching words ever uttered by the Prophets of Israel against the cities of the stranger. But we read them as a lovely song; and close our ears to the sternness of their warning; for the very depth of the fall of Tyre has blinded us to its reality, and we forget, as we watch the bleaching of the rocks between the sunshine and the sea, that they were once "as in Eden, the garden of God."
Her successor, like her in perfection of beauty, though less in endurance of dominion, is still left for our beholding in the final period of her decline: a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak—so quiet,—so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the City, and which the Shadow. A warning seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves, that beat like passing bells against the stones of Venice.
The state of Venice existed thirteen hundred and seventysix years. Of this period two hundred and seventy-six years were passed in a nominal subjection to the cities of old Venetia, and in an agitated form of democracy. For six hun dred years, during which the power of Venice was continually on the increase, her government was an elective monarchy, her king or Doge possessing, in early times at least, as much independent authority as any other European sovereign; but an authority gradually subjected to limitation, and shortened almost daily of its prerogatives, while it increased in a spectral and incapable magnificence. The final government of the nobles, under the image of a king, lasted for five hundred years, during which Venice reaped the fruits of her former energies, consumed them,—and expired.
Throughout her career, the victories of Venice, and at many periods of it, her safety, were purchased by individual heroism; and the man who exalted or saved her was sometimes hei king, sometimes a noble, sometimes a citizen.
The most curious phenomenon in all Venetian history, is the vitality of religion in private life, and its deadness in public policy. Amidst the enthusiasm, chivalry, or fanaticism of the other states of Europe, Venice stands, from first to last, like a masked statue; her coldness impenetrable, her exertion only aroused by the touch of a secret spring. That spring was her commercial interest,—this the one motive of all her important political acts, or enduring national animosities. She could forgive insults to her honor, but never rivalship in her commerce. She calculated the glory of her conquests by their value, and estimated their justice by their facility.
There are, therefore, two strange and solemn lights in which we have to regard almost every scene in the fitful history of the Rivo Alto. We find, on the one hand, a deep and constant tone of individual religion characterizing the lives of the citizens of Venice in her greatness; we find this spirit influencing them in all the familiar and immediate concerns of life, giving a peculiar dignity to the conduct even of their commercial transactions, and confessed by them with a Simplicity of faith that may well put to shame the hesitation with which a man of the world at present admits (even if it be so in reality,) that religious feeling has any influence over the minor brandies of his conduct. With the fulness of this spirit the prosperity of the state is exactly correspondent, and with its failure her decline.
There is another most interesting feature in the policy of Venice, namely, the magnificent and successful struggle which she maintained against the temporal authority of the Church of Rome.
One more circumstance remains to be noted respecting the Venetian government, the singular unity of the families composing it,—unity far from sincere or perfect, but still admirable when contrasted with the fiery feuds, the almost daily revolutions, which fill the annals of the other states of Italy. Venice may well call upon us to note with reverence, that of all the towers which are still seen rising, like a branchless forest, from her islands, there is but one whose office was other than that of summoning to prayer, and that one was a watchtower only.
The Venice of Modern fiction and drama is a thing of yesterday, a mere efflorescence of decay, a stage-dream which the first ray of daylight must dissipate into dust. No prisoner, whose name is worth remembering, or whose sor row deserved sympathy, ever crossed that "Bridge of Sighs," which is the centre of the Byronic ideal of Venice; no great Merchant of Venice ever saw that Rialto under which the traveller now passes with breathless interest: the statue, which Byron makes Faliero address as one of his great ancestors, was erected to a soldier of fortune a hundred and fifty years after Faliero's death; and the most conspicuous oarts of the city have been so entirely altered in the course of the last three centuries, that if Henry Dandolo 0i Francis Foscari could be summoned from their tombs, and stcod each on the deck of his galley, at the entrance of the Grand Canal, that renowned entrance, the painter's favorite subject, the novelist's favorite scene, where the water first narrows by the steps of the church of La Salute—the mighty Doges would not know in what spot of the world they stood, would literally not recognise one stone of the great city, for whose sake and by whose ingratitude their grey hairs had been brought down with bitterness to the grave. The remains of their Venice lie hidden behind the cumbrous masses which were the delight of the nation in its dotage; hidden in many a grass-grown court, and silent pathway, and lightless canal, where the slow waves have sajiped their foundations for five hundred years, and must soon prevail over them for ever. It must be our task to glean and gather them forth, and restore out of them some faint image of the lost city; more gorgeous a thousand fold, than that which now exists, yet not created in the day-dream of the prince, nor by the ostentation of the noble, but built- by iron hands and patient hearts, contending against the adversity of nature and the fury of man, so that its wonderfulness cannot be grasped by the indolence of imagination, but only after frank inquiry into the true nature of that wild and solitary scene, whose restless tide and trembling sands did, indeed, shelter the birth of the city, but long denied her dominion.
It is enough for us to know that from the mouths of tbe Adige to those of the Piave there stretches, at a variable distance of from three to five miles from the actual shore, a bank of sand, divided into long islands by narrow channels of sea, The space between this bank and the true shore consists of the sedimentary deposits from these and other rivers, a great plain of calcareous mud, covered, in the neighborhood of Venice,