Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

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

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was no exception to the rule. The learned of the time
threw themselves upon him with all the heat of critics who
have never committed themselves by serious production
in their own persons. They accused him of founding
his book upon the narratives of the inferior annalists,
and neglecting the good of transcribing from contempo-
raries, and above all of haste, an accusation which it is
impossible to deny. "But," says Foscarini, "the thirst
for a general history was such that either these faults


were not discovered, or else by reason of the unusual
accompaniment of eloquence, to which as to a new thing
the attention of all was directed, they passed unob-
served." The eager multitude took up the book with
enthusiasm, although the critics objected; and though
Sabellico was in no manner a servant of the state, and
had never had the office of historian confided to him,
"the Senate, perceiving the general approval, and hav-
ing rather regard to its own greatness than to the real
value of the work, settled upon the writer two hundred
gold ducats yearly, merely on the score of gracious
recompense." This altogether disposes, as Foscarini
points out, of the spiteful imputation of "a venal pen,"
which one of his contemporaries attributed to Sabellico;
but at the same time he is careful to guard his readers from
the error of supposing that the historian had the privileges
and position of a functionary chosen by the state.

The learned doge is indeed very anxious that there
should be no mistake on this point, nor any undue praise
appropriated to the first historian of Venice. All foreign
historians, he says, take him as the chief authority on
Venice, and quote him continually; not only so, but
the writers who immediately succeeded him did little
more than repeat what he had said, and the most learned
among them had no thought of any purgation of his nar-
rative, but only to add various particulars, in the main
following Sabellico, for which reason they are to be
excused who believe that they find in him the very flower
of ancient Venetian history; but yet he cannot be justly
so considered. Foscarini cites various errors in the com-
plicated history of the Crusades, respecting which it is
allowed, however, that the ancient Venetian records con-
tain very little information; and such mistakes as that
on a certain occasion Sabellico relates an expedition as
made with the whole of the armata, while Dandolo fixes
the number at thirty galleys not a very important error.
When all has been said, however, there is little doubt
that as a general history, full in all the more interesting
details, and giving a most lifelike and graphic picture of
the course of Venetian affairs, with all the embassies,
royal visits, rebellions, orations, sorrows, and festivities
that took place within the city, together with those events
more difficult to master that were going on outside, the


history of Sabellico is the one most attractive and
interesting to the reader, and on all general events quite
trustworthy. The original is in Latin, but it was put
into the vulgar tongue within a few years after its publi-
cation, and was afterward more worthily translated by
Dolce in a version which contains much of the force and
eloquence of the original.

After this another long interval elapsed in which many
patrician writers, one after another, whose names and
works are all recorded by Foscarini, made essays less or
more important, without, however, gaining the honorable
position of historian of the republic; until at last the
project for establishing such an office was taken up in
the beginning of the sixteenth century for the benefit of
a young scholar, noble but poor, Andrea Navagero. He
was the most elegant Latin writer in Italy, Foscarini
says; indeed, the great Council of Ten themselves have
put their noble hands to it that this was the case. "His
style was such as, by agreement of all the learned, had
not its equal in Italy or out of it," is the language of the
decree by which his appointment was made. Being with-
out means he was about to leave Venice to push his for-
tune elsewhere by his talents, " depriving the country of
so great an ornament" a conclusion "not to be toler-
ated." To prevent such an imputation upon the state,
the council felt themselves bound to interfere, and
appointed Navagero their historian, to begin over again
that authentic and authorized history which Sabellico had
executed without authority. The chances probably are
that the young and accomplished scholar had friends
enough at court to make a strong effort for him, to
liberate him from the alarming possibility, so doubly sad
for a Venetian, of being "confined within the boundaries
of private life " and that the authorities of the state
bethought themselves suddenly of a feasible way of provid-
ing for him by giving him this long thought of but never
occupied post. They were no great judges of literature,
more especially of Latin their own being of the most
atrocious description; but they were susceptible to the
possible shame of allowing a scholar who might be a credit
to the republic to leave Venice in search of a living.

Young Navagero thus entered the first upon the post
of historian of Venice, which he held for many years


without producing anything to justify the council in
their choice. It was probably intended only as a means
of providing for him pending his introduction into public
life; for we find a number of years after a letter from
Bembo, congratulating him on his appointment as ambas-
sador to Spain, "the first thing which you have ever
asked from the country," and prophesying great things
to follow. He was appointed historian in 1515, but it is
not till fifteen years after that we hear anything of his
history, and that in the most tragical way. In 1530 he
was sent on an embassy to France, and carried there
with him certain manuscripts, the fruit of the intervening
years ten books, it is said, of the proposed story of
Venice. But he had not been long in Paris when he
fell ill and died. And shortly before his death on the
very day, one writer informs us he threw his papers
into the fire with his own hands, and destroyed the whole.
Whether this arose from dissatisfaction with his work, or
whether it was done in the delirium of mortal sickness,
no one could tell. Foscarini quotes from an unpublished
letter of Cardinal Valiero some remarks upon this unfor-
tunate writer, in which he is described as one who was
never satisfied with moderate approval from others, and
still less capable of pleasing himself. This brief and
tragic episode suggests even more than it tells. Noble,
ambitious, and poor, probably of an uneasy and fastidious-
mind for he is said on a previous occasion to have
burned a number of his early productions in disgust and
discouragement the despondency of sickness must have
overwhelmed a sensitive nature. The office to which he
had been promoted was still in the visionary stage; the
greatest things were expected of the new historian of
the republic, a work superseding all previous attempts.
Sabellico, who had gone over the same ground in choicest
Latin, was still fresh in men's minds; and, still more
alarming, another Venetian, older and of greater weight
than himself, Marino Sanudo, one of the most astonishing
and gifted of historical moles, was going on day by day
with those elaborate records which are the wonder of
posterity, building up the endless story of the republic
with details innumerable a mine of material for other
workers, if too abundant and minute for actual history.
Ser Andrea was no doubt well aware of the keen inspec'


tion, the criticism sharpened by a sense that this young
fellow had been put over the heads of older men, which
-would await his work; and his own taste had all the
fastidious refinement of a scholar, more critical than
confident. When he found himself in a strange country,
though not as an exile but with the high commission of
the republic; sick, little hopeful of ever seeing the
beloved city again; his heart must have failed him alto-
gether. These elaborate pages, how poor they are apt
to look in the cold light darkened by the shadow of
the grave! He would think perhaps of the formidable
academy in the Aldine workshops shaking their heads
over his work, picking out inaccuracies finding perhaps,
a danger more appalling still to every classical mind,
something here and there not Ciceronian in his Latin.
Nothing could be more tragic, yet there is a lingering
touch of the ludicrous too, so seldom entirely absent
from human affairs. To tremble lest a solecism
should be discovered in his style when the solemnity of
death was already enveloping his being! Rather finish
all at one stroke, flinging with his feverish dying hands
the work never corrected enough, among the blazing
logs, and be done with it forever. Amid all the artificial
fervor of Renaissance scholarship and the learned chatter
of the libraries, what a tragic and melancholy scene!

The critics are careful to indicate that this is not the
same Andrea Navagero who wrote the chronicle bearing
that name, and whose work is of the most commonplace
description. It is confusing to find the two so near in
time, and with nothing to identify the second bearer of
the name except that he writes in indifferent Italian
(Venetian), and not in classic Latin, and that his book
was given to the public while the other Andrea, lo Storico,
was still only a boy. The only productions of the histo-
rian so called, though nothing of his history survives, seem
to have been certain Latin verses of more or less elegance.

A very much more important personage in his time, as
in the value of the extraordinary collections he left be-
hind him, was the diarist and historian already referred
to, Marino Sanudo. He too, we may remark in passing,
is apt to be confused with an older writer of the same
name, Marino Sanudo, called Torsello, who wrote on the
subject of the Crusades, and on many other matters more


exclusively Venetian, something like a hundred and fifty
years before, in the middle of the fourteenth century.
The younger Sanudo (or Sanuto) was born in 1466, of
one of the most noble houses in Venice, and educated in
all the erudition of his time. He was of such a preco-
cious genius that between his eleventh and fourteenth
years he corresponded with the most eminent scholars of
the day, and gave the highest hopes of future greatness.
Even in that early age the dominant passion of his life
had made itself apparent, and he seems already to have
begun the collection of documents and the record of daily
public events. At the age of eight it would appear the
precocious historian had already copied out with his own
small hand the fading inscriptions made by Petrarch
under the series of pictures, anticchtssimi, the first of all
painted in the Hall of the Great Council. Sanudo him-
self announces that he did this, though without mention-
ing his age; but the anxious care of Mr. Rawdon Brown,
so well known among the English students and adorers
of Venice, points out that these pictures were restored
and had begun to be repainted in 1474, during the child-
hood of his hero. There could be nothing more char-
acteristic and natural, considering the after-life of the
man, than this youthful incident, and it adds an interest
the more to the hall in which so often in latter days our
historian mounted the tribune, in renga, as he calls it,
and addressed the assembled parliament of Venice to
call before us the small figure, tablets in hand, his child-
ish eyes already sparkling with observation, and that
historical curiosity which was the inspiration of his life
copying, before they should altogether perish, the inscrip-
tions under the old pictures which told the half-fabulous
triumphant tale of Barbarossa beaten and Venice victrice.
The colors were no doubt fading, flakes of the old dis-
temper peeling off and a general ruin threatened, before
the Senate saw it necessary to renew that historical
chronicle. When we remember Sanudo's humorous, only
half-believing note on the subject years after, " that if
the story had not been true, our brave Venetians would
not have had it painted," it gives a still more delightful
glow of smiling interest to the image of the little Marino,
no doubt with unwavering faith in his small bosom and
enthusiasm for his city, taking down, to the awe of many


an unlearned contemporary, the fading legends written
by the great poet, a record at once of the ancient glories
of Venice and of her illustrious guest.

He was seventeen, however, and eager in all the exer-
cises of a Venetian gentleman when he went with his
elder cousin, Marco Sanudo, who had been appointed one
of the auditors or syndics of Terra Firma, to Padua in
the spring of 1483. The brilliant cavalcade rode from
Fusina by the banks of the Brenta, then as now a line of
villas, castellos, hospitable houses, where they were re-
ceived with great honor and pomp, and visited every-
thing that was remarkable in the city. Visto tutto, is the
youth's record wherever he went: and there can indeed
be no doubt that in all his journeys the young Marino
saw and noted everything the circumstances of the
locality, the scenery, the historical occurrences all that
is involved in the external aspect of a place which had
associations both classical and contemporary. The
characteristics of his time are very apparent in all his
keen remarks and inspections. He is told, he says, that
Padua has many bodies of the saints, and in this respect
is second only to Rome but the only sacred relic in
which he is especially interested is the corpo e vero osse of
Livy, to which he refers several times, giving the epitaph
of the classical historian at full length. Strangely enough,
at an age when the art of painting was growing to its
greatest development in Venice, no curiosity seems to
have been in the young man's curious mind, nor even any
knowledge of the fact that the chapel of the Arena had
been adorned by the great work of a certain Giotto,
though that is the chief object now of the pilgrim who
goes to Padua. That beautiful chapel must have been in
its fullest glory of color and noble art; but there is no
evidence that our cavalier had so much as heard of it,
though he spies every scrap of marble on the old bridges,
and carefully quotes epigrams and verses about the city,
and records every trifling circumstance. " The markets
are Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday." "There are forty
parish churches, and four hospitals," etc., etc. but not
a word of the then most famous pictures in the world.

This is the " Itinerario in Terra-firma," which is the first
of the young author's works. It is full of the sprightly
impulses of a boy, and of a boy's pleasure in movement,


in novelty, in endless rides and expeditions, tempered by
now and then a day in which the syndic data audientia per
toto eljorno, his young cousin sitting no doubt by his side
more grave than any judge, to hide the laugh always
lurking at the corners of his mouth: data benigna audien-
tia, he says on one occasion, perhaps on one of those May
days when he rode off with a cavalcade of his friends
through that green abundant country to the village or
castello where lived the queen of his affections " that
oriental jewel [Gemma], that lovely face which I seem to
have always before me, inspiring me with many songs for
my love." "Oh, me! Oh, me! " he cries in half-humorous
distraction, " I am going mad! Let me go and sing more
than ever. Long before this I ought to have been in love.
Fain would I sing of the goddess, my bright Gemma,
whose lovely countenance I ever adore, and who has
made me with much fear her constant servant." Gemma
shines out suddenly like a star only in this one page of the
" Itinerario." Perhaps he exhausted his boyish passion
in constant rides to Rodigio or Ruigo, where the lady
lived, and in his songs, of which the specimens given are
not remarkable. But the sentiment is full of delightful,
youthful extravagance; and the aspect of the young man
gravely noting everything by the instinct of his nature,
galloping forth among his comrades one of whom he
calls Pylades some half dozen of them, a young Cor-
naro, a Pisani, the bluest blood in Venice scouring the
country, to see the churches, the castles and palaces,
and everything that was to be seen, and Gemma above
all, mingles with charming ease and inconsistency the
dawning statesman, the born chronicler, the gallant, boy-
ish lover. Sometimes the cavalcade counted forty horse-
men, sometimes only three or four. The " Itinerario " is a
mass of information, full of details which Professor R.
Fulin, its latest editor, considers well worth the while of
the patriotic Venetian of to-day. "To compare our prov-
inces at four centuries' distance with their present state
is certainly curious, and without doubt useful also," he
says but the glimpses between the lines of that sprightly,
youthful company is to us who are less seriously con-
cerned still more interesting. "We have before our
eyes," adds the learned professor, "a boy but a boy
who begins to bear very worthily the name of Marino


Sanudo." It somewhat disturbs all Marino's commenta-
tors, however, that, though his education had been so
good and classical references abound in his writings, yet
his style is never so elevated as his culture. It is indeed
very disjointed, entirely unstudied, prolix, though full of
an honest simplicity and straightforwardness which per-
haps commends itself more to the English taste than to
the Italian. In his after-life Sanudo's power of production
seemed indeed endless. Besides his published works, he
left behind him fifty-six volumes of his diary, chiefly of
public events, a record day by day of all the news that
came to Venice and all that happened there. It was by
the loving care of the Englishman already referred to,
Mr. Rawdon Brown, a kindred spirit, that portions of
those wonderful diaries were first given to the world.
They are now in course of publication; a mass of minute
and inexhaustible information, from the first aspect of
which I confess to have shrunk appalled. This sea of
facts, of picturesque incidents, of an eye-witness'
sketches, and the reports of an immediate actor in the
scenes described affords to the careful student an almost
unexampled guide and assistance to the understanding
of the years between 1482 and 1533, from Sanudo's youth
to the end of his life.

The " Vitse Ducum," from which we have already
quoted largely, is full of the defects of style which were
peculiar to this voluminous writer: they are charged with
repetitions and written without regard to any rules of
composition or prejudices of style but their descriptions
are often exceedingly picturesque in unadorned simplicity,
and the reflections of popular belief and the report of the
moment give often, as the reader will observe on turning
back to our earlier chapters, an idea of the manner in
which an incident struck the contemporary mind, which
is exceedingly instructive, even though, as often happens,
it cannot be supported by documents or historical proof.
To my thinking it is at least quite as interesting to know
what account was given among the people of a great
event, and how it shaped itself in the general mind, as to
understand the form it takes in the archives of the
country when it has fallen into perspective, and into the
inevitable subordination of individual facts to the broader
views of history. At the same time Sanudo's story, while


keeping this popular character, is supported by the cita-
tion of innumerable public documents to which he had
access in his character of politician and magistrate; so
that the essentially different characteristics of the legend-
ary and the documentary history are combined in this
loosely written, quaintly expressed, most real and
interesting chronicle. The work is said to have been com-
posed by Sanudo between his eighteenth and his twenty-
seventh years. The garrulous tone and rambling narrative
are more like an old man than a young one; but it is
evident that the instinct of the chronicler, the minute
and constant observation the ears open and eyes intent
upon every thing small and great which could be discussed,
with a certain absence of discrimination between the im-
portant and the unimportant which is the characteristic
defect of these great qualities was in him from the be-
ginning of his career.

The great printer Aldus dedicated one of his publica-
tions to Sanudo in the year 1498, when our Marino was
but thirty-two in which already mention is made, as of
completed works, of the " Magistratus Urbis Venetae," the
"Vitis Principium," and the "De Bello Gallico,"all then
ready for publication "both in Latin and the vulgar tongue,
that they may be read by learned and unlearned alike."
From this it is apparent that Sanudo had also already
begun his wonderful diaries, the collection of his great
library, and the public life which would seem in its many
activities incompatible with these ceaseless toils. He
followed all these pursuits, however, through the rest of
his life. His diaries became the greatest storehouses of
minute information, perhaps, existing in the world; his
library was the wonder of all visitors to Venice; and the
record of his own acts and occupations, chronicled along
with everything else in his daily story of the life of the
city, shows a perpetual activity which takes away the
beholder's breath. His speeches in the Senate, generally
recorded as "/<? Marino Sanudo contradixi" were number-
less. He was employed in all kinds of public missions
and work. He was in succession a Signore di Notte, a
Savio degli Ordini, one of the Pregadi, one of the Zonta,
a member of the Senate, Avvogadore; exercising the
functions of magistrate, member of Parliament, states-
man and taking a part in all great discussions upon


state affairs, whether in the Senate or in the Great
Council. He was, as Mr. Rawdon Brown, using the
terms natural to an Englishman, describes, almost always
in opposition " contradicting," to use his own expres-
sion; and for this reason was less fortunate than many
obscure persons whose only record is in his work. Again
and again he has to tell us that the votes are given against
him, that he comes out last in the ballot, that for a time
he is no longer of the Senate, and excluded from public
office. But he never loses heart nor withdraws from the
lists. " lo Marino Sanudo t di la Zonta" he describes
himself; always proud of his position and eager to retain
or recover it, when lost. A man of such endless industry,
activity of mind and actions, universal interest and intel-
ligence, would be remarkable anywhere and at any time.
His first entry into public life was in March, 1498 "a
day to be held in eternal memory"; a few months later
he was elected Senator, and passed through various duties
and offices, always actively employed. The first break
in this busy career he records on the ist of April, 1503:

Having accomplished my term of service in the Ordini (Savii degli
Ordini), in which I have had five times the reward of public approba-
tion, and having passed out of the college, I now determine that, God
granting it, I will let no day pass without writing the news that comes
from day to day, so that I may the better, accustoming myself to the
strict truth, go on with my true history, which was begun several years
ago. Seeking no eloquence of composition, I will thus note down
everything as it happens.

This retirement, however, does not last long; for
within a few months we read:

Having been, in the end of September, without any application on my
part, or desire to re-enter, elected by the grace of the fathers of the
Senate, in a council of the Pregadi, for the sixth time, Savio degli Ordini,
I have decided not to refuse office, for two reasons. First, because I
desire always to do what I can for the benefit of our republic ; the
second, because my former service in the college was always in times of
great tribulation during the Turkish war, in which I endured no little
fatigue of mind. But now that peace with the Turk has been signed, as
I have recorded in the former book, I find myself again in the college in

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 32 of 35)