Among the noble Senators of Venice, meantime, many good scholars, many Belles Lettres conversers, and what is more valuable, many thinking men, may be found, and found hourly, who employ their powers wholly in care for the state; and make their pleasure, like true patriots, out of her felicity. The ladies indeed appear to study but one science;
And where the lesson taught
Is but to please, can pleasure seem a fault?
Like all sensualists, however, they fail of the end proposed, from hurry to obtain it; and consume those charms which alone can procure them continuance or change of admirers; they injure their health too irreparably, and that in their earliest youth; for few remain unmarried till fifteen, and at thirty have a wan and faded look. On ne goute pas ses plaisirs icy, on les avale[Footnote: They do not taste their pleasures here, they swallow them whole.], said Madame la Presidente yesterday, very judiciously; yet it is only speaking popularly that one can be supposed to mean, what however no one much refuses to assert, that the Venetian ladies are amorously inclined: the truth is, no check being put upon inclination, each acts according to immediate impulse; and there are more devotees, perhaps, and more doating mothers at Venice than any where else, for the same reason as there are more females who practise gallantry, only because there are more women there who do their own way, and follow unrestrained where passion, appetite, or imagination lead them.
To try Venetian dames by English rules, would be worse than all the tyranny complained of when some East Indian was condemned upon the Coventry act for slitting his wife’s nose; a common practice in his country, and perfectly agreeable to custom and the usage du pays. Here is no struggle for female education as with us, no resources in study, no duties of family-management; no bill of fare to be looked over in the morning, no account-book to be settled at noon; no necessity of reading, to supply without disgrace the evening’s chat; no laughing at the card-table, or tittering in the corner if a lapsus linguae has produced a mistake, which malice never fails to record. A lady in Italy is sure of applause, so she takes little pains to obtain it. A Venetian lady has in particular so sweet a manner naturally, that she really charms without any settled intent to do so, merely from that irresistible good-humour and mellifluous tone of voice which seize the soul, and detain it in despite of Juno-like majesty, or Minerva-like wit. Nor ever was there prince or shepherd, Paris I think was both, who would not have bestowed his apple here.
Mean while my countryman Howel laments that the women at Venice are so little. But why so? the diminutive progeny of Vulcan, the Cabirs, mysteriously adored of old, were of a size below that of the least living woman, if we believe Herodotus; and they were worshipped with more constant as well as more fervent devotion, than the symmetrical goddess of Beauty herself.