Saturday, March 17, 2012

Night in Venice - Venice To-Day 1895

(photo above is the singer Luigi- The Primo)

This was written by F. Hopkinson-Smith...a young lady from New York.
She spent time in Venice in the late 1800's and published a book in 1895....

It is loaded with reproductions of her sketches and paintings.
It is wonderful reading.....full of observations.
Some feel very familiar some are quirky and odd....

Here is an excerpt entitled:


Venice by night!
A night of silver moons---one hung against the velvet blue of the infinite,
fathomless sky, the other at rest in the still sea below. A night of ghostly gondolas, chasing specks of stars in the dim canals; of soft melodies broken by softer laughter; of tinkling mandolins, white shoulders, and tell-tale cigarettes. A night of gay lanterns lighting big barges, filled with singers and beset by shadowy boats, circling like moths or massed like water-beetles. A night when San Giorgio stands on tip-toe, Narcissus-like, to drink in his own beauty mirrored in the silent sea; when the angel crowning the Campanile sleeps with folded wings, lost in the countless stars; when the line of the city from across the wide lagoons is but a string of lights buoying golden chains that sink into the depths; when the air is a breath of heaven, and every sound that vibrates across the never-ending wave is the music of another world.
No pen can give this beauty, no brush its color, no tongue its delight. It must be seen and felt. It matters little how dull you soul may be, how sluggish your imagination, how dead your enthusiasm, here Nature will touch you with a wand that will stir every blunted sensibility into life. Palaces and chuches, --- poems in stone, ----canvases that radiate, sombre forests, oases of olive and palm, Beethoven, Milton, and even the great Michael himself, ay have roused in you no quiver of delight nor thrill of feeling.

But here---here by this wonderous city of the sea ---here, where the transcendent goddess of the night spreads her wings, radiant in the light of an August moon, her brow studded with stars ---even were your soul of clay, here would it vibrate to the dignity, the beauty, and the majesty of her matchless presence.

As you lie, adrift in your gondola, hung in mid air ---so like a mirror in the sea, so vast the vault above you ---how dreamlike the charm! How exquisite the languor! Now a burst of music from the far-off plaza, dying into echoes about the walls of San Giorgio; now the slow tolling of some bell from a distant tower; now the ripple of a laugh, or a a snatch of a song, or the low cooing of the lover's voice, as a ghostly skiff with drawn curtains and muffled light glides past; and the the low plash of rowers as some phantom ship looms above you with bow-lights aglow, crosses the highway of silver, and melts into shadow.
Suddenly from out the stillness there bursts across the bosom of the sleeping wave the dull boom of the evening gun, followed by the long blast of the bugle from the big war-ship near the arsenal; and then, as you hold your breath, the clear, deep tones of the great bell of the Canpanile strike the hour.
Now is the spell complete!

The professor, in the seat beside me, turns his head, and with a cautioning had to Espero to stay his oar, listens till each echo had had its say; first San giorgio's wall, then the Public Garden, and last the low murmur that pulsates back from the outlying islands of the lagoon.
On nights like these the Professor rarely talks.
He lies back on the yielding cushions, his eyes upturned to the stars, the glow of his cigarette lighting his face. Now and then he straightens himself, looks about him, and sinks back again on the cushions, muttering over and over again, "Never such a night -- never!"
To-morrow night he will tell you the same thing, and every other night the moon lasts. Yet he is no empty enthusiast. He is only enthralled by the splendor of his mistress, this matchless Goddess of Air and Light and Melody. Analyze the feeling as you may, despise its sentiment or decry it altogether, the fact remains, that once get this drug of Venice into your veins, and you never recover. The same thrill steals over you with every phrase of her wondrous charm -- in the early morning, in the blinding glare of the noon, in the cool fading of the day, in the tranquil watches of the night.
It is Venice the Beloved, and there is none other!

Espero has breathed her air always, and hundreds of nights have come and gone for him; yet as he stands bareheaded behind you, his oar slowly moving, you can hear him communing with himself as he whispers, "Bella notte, bella notte," just as some other devotee would tell his beads in unconscious prayer. It is this spirit of idolatry born of her never-ending beauty, that marks the marvellous power which Venice wields over human hearts, compelling them, no matter how dull and leaden, to reverence and to love.
And the Venetians never forget!
While we float idly back to the city the quays are crowded with people, gazing across the wide lagoons, drinking in their beauty, the silver moon over all. Now and then a figure will come down to the water's edge and sit upon some marble steps, gazing seaward. There is nothing to be seen -- no passing ship, no returning boat.
It is only the night!
Away up the canal, Guglielmo, the famous singer, once a gondolier, is filling the night music, a throng of boats almost bridging the canal, following him from place to place, Luigi, the primo, in the lead--the occupants hanging on every note that falls from his lips.
Up the Zattere, near San Giorgio, where the afternoon sun blazed but a few hours since, the people line the edge of the marble qualy, their children about them, the soft radiance of the night glorifying the Guidecca. They are of all classes, high and low. They love their city, and every phase of her beauty is to them only a variation of her marvellous charm. The Grand Duchess of the Riva stands in the doorway of her caffe, or leans from her chamber window; Vittorio and little Appo, and every other member of the Open-Air Club, are sprawled over the Ponte Veneta Marina, and even the fishermen up the Pallada sit in front of their doors. Venice is decked out to-night in all the glory of an August moon.
They must be there to see it!
You motion to Espero, and with a twist of his blade he whirls the gondola back to the line of farthest lights. As you approach nearer, the big Trieste steamer looms above you, her decks crowded with travellers. Through he open port-holes you catch the blaze fo the electric lights, and note the tables spread and the open staterooms, the waiters and stewards moving within. About her landing ladders is a swarm of gondolas bringing passengers, the porters taking up the trunks as each boat discharges in turn.
A moment more and you shoot alongside the Molo and the watersteps of the Piazzetta. An old man steadies your boat while you alight. You bid Espero goodnight and mingle with the throng. What a transition from the stillness of the dark lagoon!

The open space is crowded with idlers walking in pairs or groups. The flambeaux of gas-jets are ablaze. From behind the towering Campanile in the great Piazza comes a burst of music from the King's Band. Farther down the Riva, beyond the Ponte Paglia, is heard the sound of another band. Everywhere are color and light and music. Everywhere stroll the happy, restful, contented people, intoxicated with the soft air, the melody, and the beauty of the night.
If you think you know San Marco, come stand beneath its rounded portals and look up. The deep coves, which in daylight are lost in the shadows of the dominant sun, are now illumined by the glare of a hundred gas-jets from the street below. What you saw in daylight is lost in the shadow -- the shadowed coves now brilliant in light. To your surprise, as you look, you find them filled with inscriptions and studded with jewels of mosaic, which flash and glint in the glare of the blazing flambeaux. All the picutres over the great doors now stand out in bold coloring, with each caramel of mosaic distinct and clear. Over every top-moulding you note little beads and dots of gray and black. If you look closer two beads will become one, and soon another will burst into wings. They are the countless pigeons roosting on the carvings. They are out of your reach, some fifty feet above you, undisturbed by all the glitter and sound.
As you turn and face the great square of the Piazza, you find it crowded to the very arcades under the surrounding palaces, with a moving mass of people, the tables of the caffes reaching almost to the band-stand placed in the middle.
Florian's is full, hardly a seat to be had. Auguste and his men are bringing ices and cooling drinks. The old Duchess of uncertain age, with the pink veil, is in her accustomed seat, and so are the white-gloved officers with waxed mustaches, and the pretty Venetian girls with their mothers and duennas. The Professor drops into his seat against the stone pillar -- the seat covered with leather, lights another cigarette, and makes a sign to Auguste. It is the same old order, a cup of coffee and the smallest drop of Cognac that can be brought out in a tear-bottle of a decanter the size of your thumb.
When the music is over yo stroll along the arcades and under the Bocca del Leone and through the narrow streets leading to Campo of San Moise, and so over the bridge near the Bauer-Grunwald to the crack in the wall that leads to the rear of your quarter. The you cross your garden and mount the steps to your rooms, and so out upon your balcony.
The canal is deserted. The music boats have long since put out their lanterns and tied up for the night. The lighters at the Dogna opposite lie still and motionless, their crews asleep under the mats stretched on the decks. Away up in the blue swims the silver moon, attended by an escort of clouds hovering close about her. Towering above you rises the great dome of the Salute, silent, majestic, every statue, cross, and scroll bathed in the glory of her light.
Suddenly, as you hang over your balcony, the soft night embracing you, the order of oleanders filing the air, you hear the quick movement of a flute borne on the night wind from away up by the Iron Bridge. Nearer it comes, nearer, the clear bird-like notes floating over the still canal and the deserted city. You lean forward and catch the spring and rhythm of the two gondoliers as they glide past, keeping time to the thrill of the melody. You catch, too, the abandon and charm of it all. He is standing over her, his head uncovered, the moonlight glinting on the uplifted reed at his lips. She lies on the cushions beneath him, throat and shoulders bare, a light scarf about her head. It is only a glimpse, bit it lingers in your memory for years -- you on the balcony alone.
Out they go,-- out into the wide lagoon, -- out into the soft night, under the glory of the radiant stars. Fainter and fainter falls the music, dinner and dimmer pales the speck with its wake of silver.
Then all is still!!


  1. What voluptuous writing!

  2. Yvonne.....geeze wouldn't it be nice having a private gondolier at your beck n call? Maybe my writing would improve?
    Ms Hopkinson is a little over the top....but it's fun reading.