« AnteriorContinuar »
SKETCHES OF ITALY, IN VERSE AND PROSE.
Time's gnawing cares, those mental clouds which pass,
'Twas thus I mused, as from Italia's shore
Till morn returns, and to the sons of pain
O fair and beauteous to the eye, within
But vain my meditations : 'tis the hour
Alluding to the figure of a lion which adorned the Piræus and was carried off by the Venetians ; and to the destruction of the Temple of Minerva when they besieged the city.
Of tortured man, from caverns foul and dank,
Within the lowest dungeon's darkest shade,
sprang with trembling eagerness to drink The Hood of day, that quiver'd round the brink Of his lone vault; and turn’d his upward eye To catch once more the beam of liberty; And clasp'd his supplicating hands to know If vengeance yet were sated with his woe. In vain—the mournful day succeeded day, Sad years of bitter anguish rollid away, Till all that high disdain and generous pride That steel'd his breast to bear, within him died. He hoped, he feard no more; the joyous past, Love, friendship, peace, were all effac'd at last, Sear'd from his blighted bosom ; --now to scrawl Unmeaning lines upon his prison-wall, To play with straws, or trace the spider's thread Hanging its long festoons around his bed, Or o'er his brows his tatter'd robe to bind, Betray the warderings of a ruin'd mind; And ihat sad smile which furrows his pale cheek, Is the heart's last faint effort ere it break.
And dost thou boast, amidst such woes as these, Thy painted halls, thy gorgeous palaces, Tyrannic Venice! Can all these atone For this one guiltless captive's secret groanFor the long pangs of him, who, born as free As mountain-air, was spurn'd to dust by thee! I mourn thee not in thy misfortune's hour; No-perish, I exclaim, insatiate Pow'r ! Perish all those who at the bloody shrine Of mad ambition offer'd crimes like thine; Who strain'd each thought to conquer and oppress, But left undone the nobler task, to bless; Strove not the applause of virtuous minds to gain, And in the hearts of grateful thousand reign, But fellow-inan like herds of cattle sold, And barter'd sacred liberty for gold.
Proud city! I will read the lesson here,
Firm ’mid thy subject isles, unchanged, unmoved like them. Whilst other celebrated cities derive in part their interest from their civil and military history, Venice is attractive chiefly by her local peculiarities. A romantic feeling is awakened at the sight of her, which may be attributed more to the singularity of her situation than to the genius or achievements of her natives. Her magnificent edifices rest upon the waves, and are approached only along the silent bosom of the waters. Even the busy operations of commerce were performed in her streets with comparative tranquillity. She received the treasures of the East upon her quays and in her warehouses, not with the tumul-. tuous crash of overloaded wains and sledges, but from the peaceful felucca, which having deposited its burthen, spread again its canvass to the breeze and sailed in search of richer offerings to the pride of its sea-wreathed mistress. When we recline in our gondolas and impelled by an invisible hand glide along her broad canals--when at every turn we perceive new objects of architectural splendour rising before us in rapid succession, palaces receding beyond palaces, domes clustering behind domes, the long perspective of arcades, the broad expanse of piazzas, the tapering points of towers and pinnacles—when we survey all these reflecting their façades in the watery mirror beneath them, which, far from seeming to supply the place of a foundation, continues their images to another heaven and another sky, the whole appears like a magnificent pageant with the immateriality of which the sea and the air mingle, but to which the earth affords no support. This unsubstantial character of Venice forms a singular contrast with the extent and duration of her political power. It seems as if a breath could at any time have annihilated, and yet it required the lapse of ages to shake and to subvert the fabric of her empire. Mistress in the days of her greatness of so large a portion of the civilized world, she fixed the seat of her power, not on the land which she possessed, but on the waters which flowed by her. She grasped with insatiable ambition distant possessions, and contended with mighty empires, but still her
* From Tacitus--id ipsum paventes quod timuissent.
existence was on the waves; her ships conveyed to her port the produce of the Eastern world, or bore the sound of her vengeance to remote countries, whilst she, unprotected by bulwarks, unconfined by ramparts, and defended only by the singularity of her situation and the terror of her name, seemed to exist as much at least in imagination as in reality. The extent and greatness of her power appeared to her opponents as undefined as the walls of her capital. A shadowy uncertainty overspread her actions as well as her habitations. She was felt before she was seen. She was present every where, and as occasion required could condense to a point, or expand to a long line of attack, the numerous population which she commanded. The genius of her government partook of this secresy and indistinctness. Its designs were conceived in darkness, and its mandates issued in silence: there was no preparatory notice by debate and discussion, no attempt to ascertain the state of popular feeling by hints and surmises; the decree and the execution were simultaneous, the flash was seen and the bolt felt at the same instant. Obscurity is a source of power as well as of sublimity, and the long existence of the Venetian government may, perhaps, be ascribed in part to that cause. Of the wisdom of its institutions, on which it was, during so long a period, the fashion for political writers to descant, we may now be allowed to entertain considerable doubts. If to sacrifice individual rights to public security-if to consolidate into a morbid mass of suspicion, treachery, and fear, the mental energies of the people-if to stifle Nature's most honourable feelings at their birth, and form the infant reason by artificial compression, to that passive character which assents when it should inquire, and complies when it should object—if to call off, by the open sanction of unbounded profligacy, the observer's attention from the crimes of the state, to the vices of the citizen, and thus, under the mask of private licentiousness, to advance with security to the perpetration of the móst atrocious actions, be wisdom, Venice may claim and enjoy the reputation of political sagacity. The reward, however, of such sagacity has been the fate which Venice has experienced. She fell with ignominy, as she existed by oppression. The objects of her ambition were wealth and power : these she possessed, and these have passed away ; nor will the Muse of Italy, whom she despised in her prosperity, and who could alone have ensured her immortality, now awaken along the waters which receive into their stagnant depths the falling fragments of her ruined halls and palaces, one strain to celebrate her former grandeur, or bewail her present desolation.
SONG. BY T. CAMPBELL. STAR that bringest home the bee, Whilst far-offlowing herds are heard, And sett'st the weary labourer free! And songs, when toil is done, If any star shed peace, 'tis thou, From cottages whose smoke unstirr'd That send'st it from above,
Curls yellow in the sun. Appearing when Heaven's breath and Star of love's soft interviews, brow
Parted lovers on thee muse; Are sweet as her's we love.
Their remembrar cer in Heav'n, Come to the luxuriant skies,
Of thrilling vows thou art, Whilst the landscape's odours rise, Too delicious to be riven
By absence from the heart.