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THE REPUBLIC OF VENICE:
ITS RISE, DECLINE, AND FALL.”
(From the Quarterly Review, October, 1874).
MARC ANTONIO BARBARO was a Venetian noble of illustrious birth, who filled successively each of the highest offices in the Republic, with the exception of the Dogeship, which he narrowly missed. He was born in 1518 and died in 1595; and adopting him as the type of the patrician of the sixteenth century, the author of the book before us has undertaken to connect or associate with his career a full description of the laws, customs, manners, and policy of the Queen of the Adriatic in the height of her prosperity and the fulness of her pride. Thus, à propos of Barbaro's rank, we are treated to a sketch of the patrician order, with its privileges : on his marriage, to a disquisition on Venetian women.
His nomination to an embassy suggests the fertile topic of diplomacy; while his candidature for the Dogeship gives occasion for a complete account of this exalted office with its attributes. The conception is ingenious, and the execution leaves little to desire as regards learning, critical acuteness and discriminating research. The tone, spirit, and intention of the work are excellent: but it wants life, light, colour, and illustration. The Patrician, instead of being, as we fondly hoped, the centre of a series of animated groups, is too frequently treated as a peg on which dissertations and descriptions might be hung. Except in two or three episodes of his career, he is little better than a lay figure, slenderly draped, without expression or individuality; and as for the romance, poetry, mystery, dramatic or melodramatic interest, traditionally blended
* La Vie d'un Patricien de Venise au Seizième Siècle.—Les Doges—La Charte Ducale-Les Femmes à Venise-L'Université de Padoue Les Préliminaires de Lépante, etc., d'après les Papiers d'Etat des Archives de Venise. Par Charles Yriarte. Paris, 1874.
blended with Venetian annals, M. Yriarte's pages are as free from them as if the people under consideration were the prosaic, matter-of-fact Dutch. Yet there is scarcely a prominent incident or turning-point in those annals which does not read more like a fiction than a fact; and so obscurely grand is the subject, that the simplest preface or introduction brings the imaginative faculty into play.
“In the northern angle of the Adriatic is a gulf, called lagune, in which more than sixty islands of sand, marsh, and sea-weed have been formed by a concurrence of natural causes. These islands have become the City of Venice, which has lorded it over Italy, conquered Constantinople, resisted a league of all the Kings of Christendom, long carried on the commerce of the world, and bequeathed to nations the model of the most stable government ever framed by man.” I These are the reflections with which Count Daru introduces his carefully finished and well-proportioned picture of the Republic in all the vicissitudes of her fortunes. The fresh materials accumulated by recent explorers of her archives have rather stimulated than
1 “Histoire de la République de Venise," &c. Par P. Daru, de l'Académie Française. Seconde édition, revue et corrigée. Paris, 1821. In eight vols.
allayed curiosity. She is still vaguely known and imperfectly understood ; and we propose, with M. Yriarte's aid, to call attention to such passages in her history and peculiarities in her institutions, as may help to solve the social and political problems presented by them. We shall also show, as we proceed, how far the leading works of fiction of which the scenes are laid in Venice, agree or disagree with the facts.
The islands of the lagune could hardly be said to be inhabited, being merely used as places of occasional resort by fishermen, until towards the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century, when a settled population began to be formed of refugees :
"A few in fear,
They built their nests among the ocean waves.' The oldest document extant relating to Venetian history, is a decree of the Senate of Padua, A.D.
* An enduring debt of gratitude is owing from all recent students of Venetian bistory to M. Armand Baschet. We particularly refer to “ Les Archives de Venise, Histoire de la Chancellerie Secrète, &c., par Armand Baschet. Paris, Henri Plon, l'imprimeur-éditeur, Rue Garancière, 1870”: a book full of curious information and interesting details. Mr. Rawdon Brown's discriminating researches in the same field are well known.
? Rogers's “ Italy.” These lines are paraphrased, without acknowledgment, from Gibbon. “It is a saying worthy of the ferocious pride of Attila, that the grass never grew on the spot where his horse had trod. Yet the savage destroyer undesignedly laid the foundations of a republic which revived, in the feudal state of Europe, the art and spirit of commercial industry. ... The minister of Theodoric compares them, in his quaint declamatory style, to waterfowl who had fixed their nests on the bosom of the waves.”—“ Decline and Fall," chap. xxxv.) In his Italy,” Rogers has throughout treated the historians and chroniclers as Byron accuses sepulchral Grahame" of having treated the scriptural writers :
“Breaks into blank the Gospel of St. Luke,
421, ordering the construction of a town on Rialto, the largest of the isles, with the view of bringing together in a single community the scattered inhabitants of the rest for the purposes of mutual protection and support. They appear to have been left free to choose their own form of government; for we find that each island had at first its own magistrate : the magistrates of the most considerable being called Tribunes Major, the others, Tribunes Minor, and the whole being equally subject to the council-general of the community; which thus constituted a kind of federal republic.
This lasted nearly 300 years, when it was found that the rising nation had fairly outgrown its institutions. Dangerous rivalries arose among the tribunes. Their divided authority weakened the common action, and their administration became a general subject of complaint. At a meeting of the Council-General, A.D. 697, the Patriarch of Grado proposed the concentration of power in the hands of a single chief, under the title of Doge or Duke. The proposition was eagerly accepted, and they proceeded at once to the election of this chief. “It will be seen (remarks Daru) that the Dogeship saved independence and compromised liberty. It was a veritable revolution, but we are ignorant by what circumstances it was brought about. Many historians assert that the change was not effected till the permission of the Pope and the Emperor was obtained.”
The first choice fell on Paolo Luca Anabesto. It was made by twelve electors, the founders of what were
thenceforth termed the electoral families.' The Doge was appointed for life : he
Badonari, Barozzi, Contarini, Dandoli, Falieri, Gradenighi, Memmi otherwise Monegari, Michielli, Morosini, Polani, Sanudi otherwise Candiani, Thiepoli. All are extinct.
named his own counsellors : took charge of all public business; had the rank of prince, and decided all questions of peace and war. The peculiar title was meant to imply a limited sovereignty, and the Venetians uniformly repudiated, as a disgrace, the bare notion of their having ever submitted to a monarch. But many centuries passed away before any regular or welldefined limits were practically imposed; and the prolonged struggle between the people and the Doges, depending mainly on the personal character of the Doge for the time being, constitutes the most startling and exciting portion of their history.
The first Doge proved a wise and sagacious ruler. He reigned twenty years. The second, Marcello Tegaliano, did equally well. The third, Urso, elected in 726, was restless and ambitious. He seized the first opportunity to engage in warlike operations, and it was under him that the Venetians made their first essay as a military power by land. He took Ravenna by assault, and based such pretensions on his victory, that, after Heraclea (then the capital) had been distracted and split into factions for two years, the people rose,
forced their way into his palace, and cut his throat. He had reigned eleven years ; long enough to sicken them of Doges for the nonce, so, not wishing to revert to tribunes, they appointed a chief magistrate to be elected annually, under the title of maestro della milizia. Five such magistrates were named, and ruled in succession, when the institution came to an untimely end with the fifth. For some unexplained reason or from caprice, the populace rose again, deposed him, and put out his eyes. The Dogeship was then restored in the person of Theodal Urso (son of the last Doge), who quitted Heraclea for Malamocco, which thus