Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

by ruins, partly under cultivation for the supply of the metropolis.

The average rise and fall of the tide is about three feet

[graphic][subsumed]

(varying considerably with the seasons); but this fall, on so flat a shore, is enough to cause continual movement in the waters, and in the main canals to produce a reflux, which frequently runs like a mill-stream. At high water no land is visible for many miles to the north or south of Venice, except in the form of small islands crowned with towers or gleaming with villages : there is a channel, some three miles wide between the city and the mainland, and some mile and a half wide between it and the sandy breakwater called the Lido, which divides the lagoon from the Adriatic, but which is so low as hardly to disturb the impression of the city's having been built in the midst of the ocean, although the secret of its true position is partly, yet not painfully, betrayed by the clusters of piles set to mark the deep-water channels, which undulate far away in spotty chains like the studded backs of huge sea-snakes, and by the quick glittering of the crisped and crowded waves that flicker and dance before the strong winds upon the uplifted level of the shallow sea.

But the scene is widely different at low tide. A fall of eighteen or twenty. inches is enough to show ground over the greater part of the lagoon ; and at the complete ebb the city is seen standing in the midst of a dark plain of sea-weed, of gloomy green, except only where the larger branches of the Brenta and its associated streams converge towards the port of the Lido. Through this salt and sombre plain the gondola and the fishing-boat advance by tortuous channels, seldom more than four or five feet deep, and often so choked with slime that the heavier keels furrow the bottom till their crossing tracks are seen through the clear sea-water like the ruts upon a wintry road, and the oar leaves blue gashes upon the ground at every stroke, or is entangled among the thick weed that fringes the bank with the weight of its sullen waves, leaning to and fro upon the uncertain sway of the exhausted tide.

The scene is often profoundly impressive, even at this day, when every plot of higher ground bears some fragment of fair building : but in order to know what it was once, let the traveller follow in his boat at evening the windings of some unfrequented channel far into the midst of the melancholy plain ; let him remove, in his imagination, the brightness of the great city that still extends itself in the distance, and the walls and towers from the islands that are near; and so wait, until the bright investiture and sweet warmth of the sunset are withdrawn from the waters, and the black desert of their shore lies in its nakedness beneath the night, pathless, comfortless, infirm, lost in dark languor and fearful silence, except where the salt runlets plash into the tideless pools, or the sea-birds flit from their margins with a questioning cry; and he will be enabled to enter in some sort into the horror of heart with which this solitude was anciently chosen by man for his habitation.

They little thought, who first drove the stakes into the sand, and strewed the ocean reeds for their rest, that their children were to be the princes of that ocean, and their palaces its pride ; and yet, in the great natural laws that rule that sorrowful wilderness, let it be remembered what strange preparation had been made for the things which no human imagination could have foretold, and how the whole existence and fortune of the Venetian nation were anticipated or compelled, by the setting of those bars and doors to the rivers and the sea. Had deeper currents divided their islands, hostile navies would again and again have reduced the rising city into servitude ; had stronger surges beaten their shores, all the richness and refinement of the Venetian architecture must have been exchanged for the walls and bulwarks of an ordinary seaport. Had there been no tide, as in other parts of the Mediterranean, the narrow canals of the city would have become noisome, and the marsh in which it was built pestiferous. Had the tide been only a foot or eighteen inches higher in its rise, the water-access to the doors of the palaces would have been impossible : even as it is, there is sometimes a little difficulty, at the ebb, in landing without setting foot upon the lower and slippery steps ; and the highest tides sometimes enter the courtyards, and overflow the entrance halls. Eighteen inches more of difference between the level of the flood and ebb would have rendered the doorsteps of every palace, at low water, a treacherous mass of weeds and limpets, and the entire system of water-carriage for the higher classes, in their easy and daily intercourse, must have been done away with. The streets of the city would have been widened, its network of canals filled up, and all the peculiar character of the place and the people destroyed.

The reader may, perhaps, have felt some pain in the contrast between this faithful view of the site of the Venetian Throne, and the romantic conception of it which we ordinarily form ; but this pain, if he have felt it, ought to be more than counterbalanced by the value of the instance thus afforded to us at once of the inscrutableness and the wisdom of the ways of God. If, two thousand years ago, we had been permitted to watch the slow settling of the slime of those turbid rivers into the polluted sea, and the gaining upon its deep and fresh waters of the lifeless, impassable, unvoyageable plain, how little could we have understood the purpose with which those islands were shaped out of the void, and the torpid waters enclosed with their desolate walls of sand ! How little could we have known, any more than of what now seems to us most distressful, dark, and objectless, the glorious aim which was then in the mind of Him in whose hand are all the corners of the earth ! how little imagined that in the laws which were stretching forth the gloomy margins of those fruitless banks, and feeding the bitter grass among their shallows, there was indeed a preparation, and the only preparation possible, for the founding of a city which was to be set like a golden clasp on the girdle of the earth, to write her history on the white scrolls of the sea-surges, and to word it in their thunder, and to gather and give forth, in the worldwide pulsation, the glory of the West and of the East, from the burning heart of her Fortitude and Splendour.

JOHN RUSKIN.

SUNSET IN NORTHERN ITALY.

The moon is up, and yet it is not night

Sunset divides the sky with her—a sea Of glory streams along the Alpine height

Of blue Friuli's mountains ; Heaven is free From clouds, but of all colours seems to be

Melted to one vast Iris of the west, Where the day joins the past eternity;

While, on the other hand, meek Dian's crest Floats through the azure air—an island of the blest !

A single star is at her side, and reigns

With her o'er half the lovely heaven ; but stili Yon sunny sea heaves brightly, and remains

Rolled o'er the peak of the far Rhætian hill, As Day and Night contending were, until

Nature reclaimed her order :-gently flows The deep-eyed Brenta, where their hues instil

The odorous purple of a new-born rose, Which streams upon her stream, and glassed within it glows,

Filled with the face of heaven, which, from afar,

Comes down upon the waters ; all its hues,
From the rich sunset to the rising star,

Their magical variety diffuse :
And now they change ; a paler shadow strews

Its mantle o'er the mountains ; parting day
Dies like the dolphin, whom each pang imbues

With a new colour, as it gasps away,
The last still loveliest, till—'tis gone--and all is grey.

LORD BYRON.

« AnteriorContinuar »