LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Samuel Rogers and his Contemporaries
John Ruskin to Samuel Rogers, 23 June [1852]

Vol. I Contents
Chapter I. 1803-1805.
Chapter II. 1805-1809.
Chapter III. 1810-1812.
Chapter IV. 1813-1814.
Chapter V. 1814-1815.
Chapter VI. 1815-1816.
Chapter VII. 1816-1818.
Chapter VIII. 1818-19.
Chapter IX. 1820-1821.
Chapter X. 1822-24.
Chapter XI. 1825-1827.
Vol. II Contents
Chapter I. 1828-1830.
Chapter II. 1831-34.
Chapter III. 1834-1837.
Chapter IV. 1838-41.
Chapter V. 1842-44.
Chapter VI. 1845-46.
Chapter VII. 1847-50.
Chapter VIII. 1850
Chapter IX. 1851.
Chapter X. 1852-55.
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‘Venice: 23rd June.

‘Dear Mr. Rogers,—What must you have thought of me, after your kind answer to my request to be permitted to write to you, when I never wrote? . . . I was out of health and out of heart when I first got here. There came much painful news from home, and then such a determined course of bad weather, and every other kind of annoyance, that I never was in a temper fit to write to any one; the worst of it was that I lost all feeling of Venice, and this was the reason both of my not writing to you and of my thinking of you so often. For whenever I found myself getting utterly hard and indifferent, I used to read over a little bit of the “Venice” in the “Italy,” and it put me always
into the right tone of thought again, and for this I cannot be enough grateful to you. For though I believe that in the summer, when Venice is indeed lovely, when pomegranate blossoms hang over every garden wall, and green sunlight shoots through every wave, custom will not destroy or even weaken the impression conveyed at first, it is far otherwise in the length and bitterness of the Venetian winters. Fighting with frosty winds at every turn of the canals takes away all the old feelings of peace and stillness; the protracted cold makes the dash of the water on the walls a sound of simple discomfort, and some wild and dark day in February one starts to find oneself actually balancing in one’s mind the relative advantages of land and water carriage, comparing the canal with Piccadilly, and even hesitating whether for the rest of one’s life one would rather have a gondola within call or a hansom. When I used to get into this humour I always had recourse to those lines of yours,
The Sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,
Ebbing and flowing,1 etc.
and they did me good service for many a day; but at last came a time when the sea was not in the narrow streets, and was always ebbing and not flowing; and one day, when I found just a foot and a half of muddy
1 There is a glorious City in the Sea;
The Sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,
Ebbing and flowing, and the salt sea-weed
Clings to the marble of her palaces.
No track of men, no footsteps to and fro,
Lead to her gates. The path lies o’er the Sea,
Invisible; and from the land we went,
As to a floating City—steering in,
water left under the Bridge of Sighs, and ran aground in the Grand Canal as I was going home, I was obliged to give the canals up. I have never recovered the feeling of them.

‘But St. Mark’s Place and St. Mark’s have held their own, and this is much to say, for both are grievously destroyed by inconsistent and painful associations—especially the great square, filled as it is with spiritless loungers, and a degenerate race of caterers for their amusement—the distant successors of the jugglers and tumblers of old times, now consisting chiefly of broken-down violin-players, and other refuse of the orchestra, ragged children who achieve revolutions upon their heads and hands and beg for broken biscuits among the eaters of ices—the crumbs from the rich man’s table—and exhibitors, not of puppet shows, for Venice is now too lazy to enjoy Punch, but of dramatic spectacles composed of figures pricked out in paper, and turned in a procession round a candle. Among which sources of entertainment the Venetians lounge away their evenings all the summer long, helped a little by the Austrian bands, which play for them, more or less every night, the music fitted to their taste, Verdi, and sets of waltzes. If Dante had seen these people, he would
And gliding up her streets as in a dream,
So smoothly, silently—by many a dome,
Mosque-like, and many a stately portico,
The statues ranged along an azure sky,
By many a pile in more than Eastern pride,
Of old the residence of merchant-kings;
The fronts of some, though Time had shattered them,
Still glowing with the richest hues of art,
As though the wealth within them had run o’er.
Italy: ‘Venice,’ lines 1-17.
assuredly have added another scene to the “
Inferno”—a Venetian corner, with a central tower of St. Mark’s with red-hot stairs, up which the indolent Venetians would have been continually driven at full speed, and dropped from the parapet into a lagoon of hot café noir. Nor is the excitement of the lower classes less painful than the indolence of the upper on the days of drawing lottery tickets—days recurring but too often—and, as it seems, to me, deeply condemnatory of the financial and educational policy of the Government. These lotteries are, I think, the only thing in which the Austrian Government is inexcusably wrong; they deserve to be embarrassed in their finances when they adopt such means of taxation. I do not know a more melancholy sight than the fevered and yet habitually listless groups of the poorer population gathered in the porches of St. Mark’s, and clustered about its pillars, not for any religious service, but to wait for the declaration of the prize tickets from the loggia of Sansovino!

‘You will, however, rather wish I had never written to you from Venice at all, than written to give these accounts of it, but there is little else to give, and I fear that now there is but one period of beauty or of honour still remaining for her. Perhaps even this may be denied to her, and she may be gradually changed, by the destruction of old buildings and erection of new, into a modern town—a bad imitation of Paris. But if not, and the present indolence and ruinous dissipation of the people continue, there will come a time when the modern houses will be abandoned and destroyed, St. Mark’s Place will again be, what it was in the early ages, a green field, and the
front of the Ducal Palace and the marble shafts of St. Mark’s will be rooted in wild violets and wreathed with vines. She will be beautiful again then, and I could almost wish the time might come quickly, were it not that so many noble pictures must be destroyed first. These are what I fear I shall miss most when I come back to London, for I shall not now be within ten minutes’ drive of St. James’s Place, and I shall have no pictures of the great schools near me. Here it is an infinite privilege to be able to walk out in the morning and to pay a visit to
Titian, and, whenever the sun is too hot, to rest under a portico with Paul Veronese. I love Venetian pictures more and more, and wonder at them every day with greater wonder; compared with all other paintings they are so easy, so instinctive, so natural, everything that the men of other schools did by rule and called composition, done here by instinct and only called truth.

‘I don’t know when I have envied anybody more than I did the other day the directors and clerks of the Zecca. There they sit at inky deal desks, counting out rolls of money, and curiously weighing the irregular and battered coinage of which Venice boasts; and just over their heads, occupying the place which in a London counting-house would be occupied by the commercial almanack, a glorious Bonifazio—Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; and in a less honourable corner, three old directors of the Zecca, very mercantile-looking men indeed, counting money also, like the living ones, only a little more living, painted by Tintoret, not to speak of the scattered Palma Vecchios, and a lovely Benedetto Diana,
which no one ever looks at. I wonder when the European mind will again awake to the great fact that a noble picture was not painted to be hung, but to be seen. I only saw these by accident, having been detained in Venice by some obliging person, who abstracted some [property] . . . and brought me thereby into various relations with the respectable body of people who live at the wrong end of the Bridge of Sighs—the police, whom, in spite of traditions of terror, I would very willingly have changed for some of those their predecessors, whom you have honoured by a note in the “
Italy.” The present police appear to act on exactly contrary principles: yours found the purse and banished the loser; these don’t find the jewels, and won’t let me go away. I am afraid no punishment is appointed in Venetian law for people who steal time.

‘However, I hope now to be able to leave Venice on Monday next, and I do not intend to pause, except for rests, on my road home. I trust, therefore, to be in England about the 10th of next month, when I shall come to St. James’s Place the very first day I can get into London. At first I go home to my present house—close to my father’s—beyond Camberwell; I could not live any more in Park Street, with a dead brick wall opposite my windows. But I hope, with a few Turners on the walls, and a few roses in the garden, to be very happy near my father and mother, who will not, I think, after this absence of nearly a whole year, be able very soon to spare me again. So I must travel in Italy with you—who never lead me into any spot where I would not
be; and when I am overwearied with the lurid gloom of the London atmosphere, will you still let me come sometimes to St. James’s Place, to see the sweet colours of the south? . . .

‘Ever, dear Mr. Rogers, most affectionately and respectfully yours,

J. Ruskin.’