Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

The makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters online

. (page 15 of 35)
Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 15 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Lido, saw with eyes that almost refused to believe such
a possibility, with tears of rage and shame, one of their
own merchantmen pursued and taken by the Genoese,
and plundered and burned while they looked on, within a
mile of the shore. The enemy took Pelestrina; they
took part of Chioggia, burning and sacking everywhere;
then sailed off triumphant to the turbulent Zara, which
they had made their own, dragging the Venetian banners
which they had taken at Pola through the water as they
sailed triumphantly away. The Venetian Senate, stung
to the quick, attempted, it would seem, to raise another
fleet; but in vain, the sailors refusing to inscribe them-
selves under any leader but Pisani. A few vessels were
with difficulty armed to defend the port and Lido, upon
which hasty fortifications, great towers of wood, were
raised, with chains drawn across the navigable channels
and barges sunk to make the watery ways impassable.
When, however, the enemy, returning and finding the
coast without defense, recaptured, one after another, the
Venetian strongholds on the west side of the Adriatic,
and finally took possession in force of Chioggia, the
populace took up the panic of their rulers.

When the fall of Chioggia was known, which was toward midnight,
the city being taken in the morning, there arose such a terror in the
Palace that as soon as day dawned there was a general summons to arms,
and from all quarters the people rushed toward the Piazza. The court
and square were crowded with the multitude of citizens. The news of
the taking of Chioggia was then published by order of the Senate, upon
which there arose such a cry and such lamentations as could not have
been greater had Venice itself been lost. The women throughout the
city went about weeping, now raising their arms to heaven, now beating


upon their breasts ; the men stood talking together of the public mis-
fortune, and that there was now no hope of saving the republic, but that
the entire dominion would be lost. They mourned each his private loss,
but still more the danger of losing their freedom. All believed that the
Genoese would press on at once, overrun all the territory, and destroy
the Venetian name ; and they held consultations how to save their
possessions, money, and jewels, whether they should send them to
distant places, or hide them underground in the monasteries. All joined
in this lamentation and panic, and many believed that if in this moment
of terror the enemy's fleet had pressed on to the city, either it would
have fallen at once or would have been in the greatest danger.

"But," adds Sabellico piously, "God does not show
everything to one man. Many know how to win a battle,
but not how to follow up the victory." This fact, which
has stood the human race in stead at many moments of
alarm, saved Venice. The Genoese did not venture to
push their victory; but their presence at Chioggia, espe-
cially in view of their alliance with Carrara at Padua, was
almost as alarming. The Venetian ships were shut out
from the port, the supplies by land equally interrupted;
only from Treviso could any provisions reach the city,
and the scarcity began at once to be felt. Worse, how-
ever, than any of the practical miseries which surrounded
Venice was the want of a leader or anyone in whom the
people could trust. The doge was Andrea Contarini, a
name to which much of the fame of the eventual success
has been attributed, but it does not seem in this terrible
crisis to have inspired the public mind with any confi-
dence. After the pause of panic, and the troubled
consultations of this moment of despair, one thought
suddenly seized the mind of Venice. "Finally all con-
cluded that in the whole city there was but one Pisani,
and that he, who was dear to all, might still secure the
public safety in this terrible and dangerous crisis."
That he should lie in prison and in darkness, this man
whose appearance alone would give new heart to the
city! There was a general rush toward the Palazzo when
this thought first burst into words and flew from one to
another. The Senate, unable to resist, notwithstanding
"the envy of certain nobles," conceded the prayer of
the people. And here for a moment the tumultuous and
complicated story pauses to give us a glimpse of the man
che ad ognuno era molto caro, as the historian, impressed
by the universal sentiment, assures us again and again.


The whole population had assembled in the Piazza, to
receive him:

But so great was his modesty that he preferred to remain for this
night in the prison, where he begged that a priest might be sent to him,
and confessed, and as soon as it was day went out into the court, and to
the church of San Niccolo, where he received the precious Sacrament of
the Host, in order to show that he had pardoned every injury both public
and private ; and having done this he made his appearance before the
Prince and the Signoria. Having made his reverence to the Senate, not
with angry or even troubled looks, but with a countenance glad and joy-
ful, he placed himself at the feet of the doge, who thus addressed him:
" On a former occasion, Vittore, it was our business to execute justice;
it is now the time to grant grace. It was commanded that you should
be imprisoned for the defeat of Pola; now we will that you should be
set free. We will not inquire if this is a just thing or not, but leaving
the past, desire you to consider the present state of the republic and the
necessity for preserving and defending it, and so to act that your fellow-
citizens, who honor you for your great bearing, may owe to you their
safety, both public and private." Pisani made answer in this wise:
" There is no punishment, most serene Prince, which can come to me
from you or from the others who govern the republic which I should
not bear with a good heart, as a good citizen ought. I know, most
serene Prince, that all things are done for the good of the republic, for
which I do not doubt all your counsels and regulations are framed. As
for private grievances, I am so far from thinking that they should work
harm to anyone that I have this day received the Blessed Sacrament, and
been present at the Holy Sacrifice, that nothing may be more evident
than that I have forever forgotten to hate any man. . . As for what you
say inviting me to save the republic, I desire nothing more than to obey
it, and will gladly endeavor to defend her, and God grant that I may be
he who may deliver her from peril, by whatsoever way, with my best
thought and care, for I know that the will shall not be wanting." With
these words he embraced and kissed the Prince with many tears,
and so went to his house, passing through the joyful multitude, and
accompanied by the entire people.

It may afford some explanation of the low ebb to which
Venice had come at this crisis, that not even now was
Pisani appointed to the first command, and it was only
after another popular rising that the invidia d'alcuni nobili
was finally defeated, and he was put in his proper place
as commander of the fleet. When this was accomplished
the sailors enlisted in such numbers that in three days
six galleys were fully equipped to sail under the beloved
commander, along with a great number of smaller vessels,
such as were needful for the narrow channels about
Chioggia, only navigable by light flat-bottomed boats
and barges. A few successes fell to Pisani's share at
first, which raised the spirits of the Venetians, and another


fleet of forty galleys was equipped, commanded by the
doge himself, in the hope of complete victory. But it
was with the greatest difficulty that the city, once so rich,
could get together money enough to prepare these arma-
ments; and poverty and famine were in her streets,
deserted by all the able-bodied and left to the fear and
melancholy anticipations of the weaker part of the popu-
lation. To meet this emergency the Senate published a
proclamation holding out to all who would furnish money
or ships or men, the prize of admission into the Great
Council, offering that much-coveted promotion to thirty
new families from among the most liberal citizens, and
promising to the less wealthy or less willing interest for
their money, five thousand ducats to be distributed
among them yearly. " Many moved by the hope of such
a dignity, some also for love of their country," says
Sabellico, came forward with their offerings, no less than
sixty families thus distinguishing themselves; and many
fine deeds were done. Among others there is mention
made of a once rich Chioggiote, Matteo Fasnolo by name,
who, having lost everything, presented himself and his
two sons, all that was left to him, to give their lives for
the republic.

The rout of Pola took place in March, 1379; in August
the Genoese took possession of Chioggia and sat down at
the gates of Venice. It was as if the mouth of the Thames
had been in possession of an assailant of London, with
this additional misfortune, that the country behind, the
storehouse and supply on ordinary occasions of the city,
was also in the possession of her enemies. How it came
about that Pisani with his galleys and innumerable barks,
and the doge with his great fleet, did next to nothing
against these bold invaders, it seems impossible to tell.
The showers of arrows with which they harassed each
other, the great wooden towers erected on both sides, for
attack and defense, were, no doubt, very different from
anything that armies and fleets have trusted in since the
days of artillery. But with all these disadvantages it
seems wonderful that this state of affairs should languish
on through the winter months then universally con-
sidered a time for rest in port and not for action on the
seas without any result. A continual succession of
little encounters, sallies of the Genoese, assaults of the


besiegers, sometimes ending in a trifling victory, some-
times only adding to the number of the nameless sufferers
the sailors sweating at the oars, the bowmen on the
deck went on for month after month. The doge's fleet,
according to one account, went back every night to
Venice; the men sleeping at home and returning to their
hopeless work every day, with it may be supposed, but
little heart for it. And not only their enemies but all
the evils of the season, cold and snow and storm, fought
against the Venetians. Sometimes they would be driven
apart by the tempestuous weather, losing sight of each
other, occasionally even coming to disastrous shipwreck;
and lovely as are the lagoons under most aspects, it is
impossible to imagine anything more dreary and miser-
able than the network of slimy passages among the
marshes, and the gray wastes of sea around, in the mists
and chill of December, and amid the perpetual failures
and defeats of an ever unsuccessful conflict. Want grew
to famine in Venice, her supplies being stopped and her
trade destroyed; and even the rich plebeians, who had
strained their utmost to benefit their country and gain
the promised nobility, began to show signs of exhaustion,
and " the one Pisani," in whom the city had placed such
entire confidence, though, wonderfully enough, he does
not seem to have lost his hold upon the popular affec-
tions, had not been able to deliver his country. In
these circumstances the eyes of all began to turn with
feverish impatience to another captain, distant upon the
high seas, after whom the Senate had dispatched message
after message, to call him back with his galleys to the help
of the republic. He was the only hope that remained in
the dark mid-winter; when all their expedients failed
them, and all their efforts proved unsuccessful, there
remained still a glimmer of possibility that all might go
well if Carlo were but there.

Carlo Zeno, the object of this last hope, at the moment
careering over the seas at the head of an active and dar-
ing little fleet, which had been engaged in making reprisals
upon the Genoese coasts, carrying fire and flame along
the eastern Riviera and which was now fighting the
battles of Venice against everything that bore the flag of
Genoa, great or small was a man formed on all the an-
cient traditions of the republic, a soldier, a sailor, a mer-


chant, adventurer, and orator, a born leader of men. Of
the house of Zeno, his mother a Dandolo, no better blood is
in the Golden Book (not then, however, in existence) than
that which ran in his veins; and his adventurous life and
career were most apt to fire the imagination and delight
the popular fancy. His father had died, a kind of martyr
for the faith, in an expedition for the relief of Smyrna,
when Carlo was but seven years old. He was then sent
to the Pope at Avignon, who endowed the orphan with a
canonicate at Patras, apparently a rich benefice. But the
boy was not destined to live the peaceful life of an eccle-
siastical dignitary. He passed through the stormy youth
which in those days was so often the beginning of a heroic
career ran wild at Padua, where he was sent to study,
lost all that he had at play, and having sold even his
books, enlisted, as would appear, in some troop of free
lances, in which for five years he was lost to his friends,
but learned the art of war, to his great after profit and
the good of his country. When, after having roamed all
Italy through, he reappeared in Venice, his family, it is
probable, made little effort to prevent the young trooper
from proceeding to Greece to take up his canon's stall,
for which, no doubt, these wanderings had curiously pre-
pared him. His biography, written by his grandson,
Jacopo, Bishop of Padua, narrates all the incidents of
his early life in full detail. At Patras, the adventurous
youth, then only twenty-two, was very soon placed in the
front during the incessant wars with the Turks, which
kept that remote community in perpetual turmoil and
managed both the strategy of war and the arts of states-
manship with such ability that he obtained an honorable
peace and the withdrawal of the enemy on the payment
of a certain indemnity. However great may be the
danger which is escaped in this way, there are always
objectors who consider that better terms might have been
made. "Human nature," says Bishop Jacopo, "is a
miserable thing, and virtue always finds enemies, nor was
anything ever so well done but envy found means of spoil-
ing and misrepresenting it." Carlo did not escape this
common fate, and the Greek Governor, taking part with
his adversaries, deprived him of his canonicate. Highly
indignant at this affront, the angry youth threw up
" various other ecclesiastical dignities," which we are told


he possessed in various parts of Greece; whereupon his
life took an aspect much more harmonious with his char-
acter and pursuits. " Fortune," says our bishop, " never
forsakes him who has a great soul. There was in Chia-
renza a noble lady of great wealth, who having heard of
Carlo's achievements, and marveling at the greatness of
his spirit, conceived a desire to have him for her husband.
And Carlo, being now free from the ecclesiastical yoke,
was at liberty to take a wife, and willingly contracted
matrimony with her." This marriage, however, was not
apparently of very long duration, for scarcely had he
cleared himself of all the intrigues against him, when his
wife died, leaving him as poor as before. "Her death,
which, as was befitting, he lamented duly, did him a double
injury, for he lost his wife and her wealth together, her
property consisting entirely of feoffs, which fell at her
death to the Prince of Achaia. " This misfortune changed
the current of his life. He returned to Venice, and after
a proper interval married again, a lady of the house of
Giustiniani. " Soon after, reflecting that in a maritime
country trade is of the highest utility, and that it was
indeed the chief sustenance of his city, he made up his
mind to adopt the life of a merchant; and leaving Venice
with this intention, remained seven years absent, living
partly in a castle called Tanai on the banks of the river
Tanai, and partly in Constantinople."

Such had been the life, full of variety and experience,
of the man to whom the eyes of Venice turned in her
humiliation. He had been all over Italy in his youth,
during that wild career which carried him out of the
view of his family and friends. He had been even
further afield in France, Germany, and England, in a
short episode of service under the Emperor Charles IV.,
between two visits alia sua chiesa di Patrasso. He had
fought the Turks and led the armaments of Achaia dur-
ing his residence at his canonicate; and now, all these
tumults over, resettled into the natural position of a
Venetian, with a Venetian wife and all the traditions of
his race to shape his career; had taken to commerce,
peacefully, so far as the time permitted, in those golden
lands of the East where it was the wont of his country-
men to make their fortunes. And success, it would
appear, had not forsaken chi ha Vanima grande, the man


of great mind for when he reappeared in Venice it was
with a magnificence of help to the republic which only a
man of wealth could give. He was still engaged in peace-
ful occupations when war broke out between Genoa and
Venice. Carlo had already compromised himself by an
attempt to free the dethroned emperor, and had been
in great danger in Constantinople, accused before the
Venetian governor of treasonable practices, and only
saved by the arrival of the great convoy from Venice
" which reached Constantinople every year," and in which
he had friends. Even at this time he is said to have had
soldiers in his service, probably for the protection of his
trade in the midst of the continual tumults; and his his-
torian declares that no sooner had he escaped from Con-
stantinople than he began to act energetically for the
republic ; securing to Venice the wavering allegiance of the
island of Tenedos, from which the Venetian galleys under
his (part) command chased off the emissaries of the em-
peror, and where a Venetian garrison was installed. His
first direct action in the service of the state, however,
would seem to have been that sudden raid upon the
Genoese coast at the very beginning of the war, to which we
have referred, with the purpose of making a diversion and,
if possible, calling back to the defense of their own city the
triumphant armies of Genoa. This intention, however,
was not carried out by the result, though otherwise the
expedition was so successful that "the name of Carlo
Zeno," says his historian, writing more than a hundred
years after, " is terrible to that city even to the present
day." After this exploit he seems to have returned to
the east, per nettare la mare, sweeping the sea clear of
every Genoese vessel that came in his way, and calling
at every rebellious port with much effect.

In the midst of these engagements the news of the de-
feat at Pola did not reach him till long after the event,
and even the messengers dispatched by the Senate, one
boat after another, failed to find the active and unwearied
seaman as he swept the seas. Such a ubiquitous career
now here, now there, darting from one point to another
with a celerity which was a marvel in those days of slow
sailing and long pauses, and the almost invariable success
which seemed to attend him gave Carlo a singular charm
to the popular imagination. No one was more successful


at sea, no one half so successful on land as this leader,
suddenly improvised by his own great deeds in the very
moment of need, whose adventures had given him experi-
ence of everything that the mediaeval world knew, and
who had the special gift of his race in addition to every-
thing else the power of the orator over a people specially
open to that influence. Sanudo says that Carlo at first
refused to obey the commands of the Senate, preferring
to nettar la mare to that more dangerous work of dislodg-
ing the Genoese from Chioggia. But there would seem to
be no real warrant for this assertion. The messengers
were slow to reach him. They arrived when his hands
were still full and when it was difficult to give immediate
obedience; and when he did set out to obey, a strong
temptation fell in his way and for a time delayed his
progress. This was a great ship from Genoa, the descrip-
tion of which is like that of the galleons which tempted
Drake and his brother mariners. It was grande oltre
misura, a bigger ship than had ever been seen, quite
beyond the habits and dimensions of the time, laden with
wealth of every kind, and an enormous crew, "for
besides the sailors and the bowmen it carried two hundred
Genoese, each of whom was a senator or the son of a
senator." It was winter, and the great vessel was more
at home on the high seas than the navigli leggieri with
which our hero had been flying from island to island.
The sight of that nimble fleet filled the Genoese com-
mander with alarm; and he set all sail to get out of their
way. It was evidently considered a mighty piece of dar-
ing to attack such a ship at all, or even to be out at all
at such a season instead of in port, as sensible galleys al-
ways were in winter. When, however, the wind dropped
and the course of the big vessel was arrested, Carlo's
opportunity came. He called his crews together and
made them a speech, which seems to have been his habit.
The vessels collected in a cluster round the high prow on
which he stood, reaching with his great voice in the hush
of the calm all the listening crews, must have been such
a sight as none of our modern wonders could parallel;
and he was as emphatic as Nelson, if much longer winded.
The great Bichignona, with her huge sails drooping and
no wind to help her from her pursuers, was no doubt
lying in sight, giving tremendous meaning to his oration.


"Men," he cried, "valenti uomini, if you were ever
prompt and ardent in battle, now is the time to prove
yourselves so. You have to do with the Genoese, your
bitter and cruel enemies, whose whole endeavor is to ex-
tinguish the Venetian name. They have beaten our fleet
at Pola, with great bloodshed; they have occupied
Chioggia; and our city itself will soon be assailed by
them to reduce her to nothing; killing your wives and
children, and destroying your property and everything
there by fire and sword. Up then, my brothers, compagni
miei ! despise not the occasion here offered to you to
strike a telling blow; which, if you do, the enemy shall
pay dearly for their madness, as they well deserve, and
you, joyful and full of honor, will deliver Venice and your
wives and children from ruin and calamity."

When he had ended this speech he caused the trumpets
to sound the signal of attack. The oars swept forth, the
galleys rushed with their high-beaked prows like so many
strange birds of prey round the big, helpless, overcrowded
ship. " They fought with partisans, darts, arrows, and
every kind of arm; but the lances from the ship were
more vehement as reaching from a higher elevation, the
form of the ship [nave] being higher than the galleys,
which were long and low; nevertheless the courage of the
Venetians and their science in warfare were so great that
they overcame every difficulty. Thus," goes on the
historian, " this ship was taken, which in size exceeded
everything known in that age." Carlo dragged his prey
to Rhodes, "not without difficulty," and there burned
her, giving up the immense booty to his sailors and
soldiers; then "recalling to his mind his country," with
great trouble got his men together laden with their spoils,
and, toiling day and night without thought of danger or
fatigue, at length reached the Adriatic. Calling at an
Italian port on his way to victual his ships, he found
other letters from the Senate still more imperative, and
on the ist day of January, 1380, he arrived before
Chioggia, where lay all the force that remained to Venice,
and where his appearance had been anxiously looked for,
for many a weary day.

The state of the republic would appear to have been all
but desperate at this miserable moment. After endless
comings and goings, partial victories now and then which


raised their spirits for the moment, but a ceaseless course
of harassing and fatiguing conflict in narrow waters where
scarcely two galleys could keep abreast, and where the

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 15 of 35)