But why do I put myself to the trouble of writing this when it has all been done for me by an earlier hand? In the most popular of the little guide-books to Venice—sold at all the shops for a franc and twenty centimes, and published in German, English, and, I think, French, as well as the original Italian—the impact of Venice on the traveller by rail is done with real feeling and eloquence, and with a curious intensity only possible when an Italian author chooses an Italian translator to act as intermediary between himself and the English reader. The author is Signor A. Carlo, and the translator, whose independence, in a city which swarms with Anglo-Saxon visitors and even residents, in refusing to make use of their services in revising his English, cannot be too much admired, is Signor G. Sarri.
Here is the opening flight of these Two Gentlemen of Venice: “The traveller, compelled by a monotone railway-carriage, to look for hours at the endless stretching of the beautifull and sad Venetian plain, feels getting wear, [? near] this divine Queen of the Seas, whom so many artists, painters and poets have exalted in every time and every way; feels, I say, that something new, something unexpected is really about to happen: something that will surely leave a deep mark on his imagination, and last through all his life. I mean that peculiar radiation of impulsive energy issueing from anything really great, vibrating and palpitating from afar, fitting the soul to emotion or enthusiasm....”
Yesterday, or even this morning, in Padua, Verona, Milan, Chioggia, or wherever it was, whips were cracking, hoofs clattering, motor horns booming, wheels endangering your life. Farewell now to all!—there is not a wheel in Venice save those that steer rudders, or ring bells; but instead, as you discern in time when the brightness and unfamiliarity of it all no longer bemuse your eyes, here are long black boats by the score, at the foot of the steps, all ready to take you and your luggage anywhere for fifty per cent more than the proper fare. You are in Venice.
If you go to the National Gallery and look at No. 163 by Canaletto you will see the first thing that meets the gaze as one emerges upon fairyland from the Venice terminus: the copper dome of S. Simeon. The scene was not much different when it was painted, say, circa 1740. The iron bridge was not yet, and a church stands where the station now is; but the rest is much the same. And as you wander here and there in this city, in the days to come, that will be one of your dominating impressions—how much of the past remains unharmed. Venice is a city of yesterdays.
One should stay in her midst either long enough really to know something about her or only for three or four days. In the second case all is magical and bewildering, and one carries away, for the mind to rejoice in, no very definite detail, but a vague, confused impression of wonder and unreality and loveliness. Dickens, in his Pictures of Italy, with sure instinct makes Venice a city of a dream, while all the other towns which he describes are treated realistically.