But it is almost time to talk of the Rialto, said to be the finest single arch in Europe, and I suppose it is so; very beautiful too when looked on from the water, but so dirtily kept, and deformed with mean shops, that passing over it, disgust gets the better of every other sensation. The truth is, our dear Venetians are nothing less than cleanly; St. Mark’s Place is all covered over in a morning with chicken-coops, which stink one to death; as nobody I believe thinks of changing their baskets: and all about the Ducal palace is made so very offensive by the resort of human creatures for every purpose most unworthy of so charming a place, that all enjoyment of its beauties is rendered difficult to a person of any delicacy; and poisoned so provokingly, that I do never cease to wonder that so little police and proper regulation are established in a city so particularly lovely, to render her sweet and wholesome. It was at the Rialto that the first stone of this fair town was laid, upon the twenty-fifth of March, as I am told here, with ideal reference to the vernal equinox, the moment when philosophers have supposed that the sun first shone upon our earth, and when Christians believe that the redemption of it was first announced to her within whose womb it was conceived.
The name of Venice has been variously accounted for; but I believe our ordinary people in England are nearest to the right, who call it Venus in their common discourse; as that goddess was, like her best beloved seat of residence, born of the sea’s light froth, according to old fables, and partook of her native element, the gay and gentle, not rough and boisterous qualities. It is said too, and I fear with too much truth, that there are in this town some permitted professors of the inveigling arts, who still continue to cry Veni etiam, as their ancestors did when flying from the Goths they sought these sands for refuge, and gave their lion wings. Till once well fixed, they kindly called their continental neighbours round to share their liberty, and to accept that happiness they were willing to bestow and to diffuse; and from this call—this Veni etiam it is, that the learned men among them derive the word Venetia.
I have asked several friends about the truth of what one has been always hearing of in England, that the Venetian gondoliers sing Tasso and Ariosto’s verses in the streets at night; sometimes quarrelling with each other concerning the merit of their favourite poets; but what I have been told since I came here, of their attachment to their respective masters, and secrecy when trusted by them in love affairs, seems far more probable; as they are proud to excess when they serve a nobleman of high birth, and will tell you with an air of importance, that the house of Memmo, Monsenigo, or Gratterola, has been served by their ancestors for these eighty or perhaps a hundred years; transmitting family pride thus from generation to generation;