COLONNA THE PAINTER.

A TALE OF ITALY AND THE ARTS.

[MAGA. September 1829.]

[The following “Tale of Italy and the Arts” was submitted in MS. to the late Mr Coleridge, who signified his approval by giving to the writer, as an appropriate heading, two then unpublished stanzas from his admirable translation of Goethe’s Song of Mignon in “Wilhelm Meister,” beginning “Kennst du das Land?”]

Know’st thou the Land where the pale Citrons blow,
And Golden Fruits through dark green foliage glow?
O soft the breeze that breathes from that blue sky!
Still stand the Myrtles and the Laurels high.
Know’st thou it well? O thither, Friend!
Thither with thee, Beloved! would I wend.

Know’st thou the House? On Columns rests its Height;
Shines the Saloon; the Chambers glisten bright;
And Marble Figures stand and look at me—
Ah, thou poor Child! what have they done to thee!
Know’st thou it well? O thither, Friend!
Thither with thee, Protector! would I wend.

S. T. Coleridge, from Goethe.

INTRODUCTION.

After the fall of Napoleon had given peace to Europe, and insipidity to a soldier’s life, I returned with my regiment to B——, and too soon discovered that the lounging habits and quiet security of parade and garrison service were miserable substitutes for the high and stirring excitement of the bivouac, the skirmish, and the battle. I found myself gradually sinking into a state of mental atrophy, perilous alike to physical and moral health; and, after a fruitless struggle of some months with these morbid longings for old habits and associations, I determined to quit the army, and to realise the favourite daydream of my early youth—a walk through Italy; hoping, by two years of travel and incessant intercourse with men and books, to gain a fresh hold upon life and happiness, and to repair, in some measure, those deficiencies in my education, which the premature adoption of a military life had necessarily involved.

Pausing a few days at Vienna, I formed a friendly intimacy with a young and intelligent Venetian, of the ancient senatorial house of F——i; and, on my return through Venice, after a rewarding and delightful residence of two years in various parts of Italy, I met my Vienna friend in one of the taverns of St Mark’s. After a cordial greeting, he told me that he was obliged to leave Venice on the ensuing day, to take possession of an estate and villa in Lombardy, bequeathed to him by a deceased relative. The gardens, he added, covered the slope of a woody hill, which commanded a wide view over the classic shores and environs of the Lake of Garda; and the mansion, although time-worn and ruinous, contained some fine old paintings, and a store of old books and manuscripts which had not seen the light for ages. I had already experienced the keen delight of exploring the mines of literary wealth contained in the old libraries of Italy, and I did not hesitate to accept the cordial invitation to accompany him which closed this alluring description of his Lombard villa.

We left Venice the following morning, and, proceeding by easy journeys through Padua and Verona, we reached the villa on the evening of the third day, and installed ourselves in the least decayed apartments of the ruinous but still imposing and spacious mansion. On the ensuing day I rose early, and hastened to examine some large fresco paintings in the saloon, which had powerfully excited my curiosity during a cursory view by lamp-light. They were admirably designed, and, from the recurrence in all of the remarkable form and features of a young man of great personal beauty, they were evidently a connected series; but, with the exception of two, the colouring and details were nearly obliterated by time and the humid air from the contiguous lake. Upon scrolls beneath the two least injured paintings were the inscriptions of La Scoperta and La Vendetta; and the incidents delineated in them were so powerfully drawn, and so full of dramatic expression, that a novelist of moderate ingenuity would readily have constructed from them an effective romance. The picture subscribed La Scoperta represented the interior of an elegant saloon decorated in Italian taste with pictures, busts, and candelabra. In the foreground was seated a young artist in the plain garb rendered familiar to modern eyes by the portraits of Raphael and other painters of the sixteenth century; a short cloak and doublet of black cloth, and tight black pantaloons of woven silk. The form and features of this youth were eminently noble. His countenance beamed with dignity and power, and his tall figure displayed a classic symmetry and grandeur which forcibly reminded me of that magnificent statue, the reposing Discobolus. Before him were an easel and canvass, on which was distinguishable the roughly sketched likeness of a robust and middle-aged man sitting opposite to him in the middle-ground of the picture, and richly attired in a Spanish mantle of velvet. His sleeves were slashed and embroidered in the fashion of the period, and his belt and dagger glittered with adornments of gold and jewels; while his golden spurs, and the steel corselet which covered his ample chest, indicated a soldier of distinguished rank. In the background stood a tall and handsome youth leaning with folded arms against the window-niche. He was attired in the splendid costume of the Venetian nobles, as represented in the portraits of Titian and Paul Veronese, and his dark eyes were fixed upon the painter and his model with an expression of intense and wondering solicitude. And truly the impassioned looks and attitudes of the individuals before him were well adapted to excite sympathy and astonishment. The young artist sat erect, his tall figure somewhat thrown back, and his right hand, holding the pencil, was resting on the elbow of his chair; while from his glowing and dilated features, intense hatred and mortal defiance blazed out upon the man whose portrait he had begun to paint. In the delineation of the broad and knitted brow, the eagle-fierceness of the full and brilliant eye, and the stern compression of the lips, the unknown artist had been wonderfully successful, and not less so in the display of very opposite emotions in the harsh and repulsive lineaments of the personage sitting for his portrait. The wild expression of every feature indicated that he had suddenly made some strange and startling discovery. His face was of a livid and deadly yellow; his small and deep-set eyes were fixed in the wide stare of terror upon the artist; and his person was half raised from his seat, while his hands convulsively clutched the elbows of the chair. In short, his look and gesture were those of a man who, while unconscious of danger, had suddenly roused a sleeping lion.

The companion picture, called La Vendetta, portrayed a widely different scene and circumstance. The locality was a deep ravine, the shelving sides of which were thickly covered with trees; and the background of this woody hollow was blocked up to a considerable height by the leafy branches of recently hewn timber. In the right foreground were two horses, saddled and bridled, and at their feet the bleeding corpses of two men, clothed in splendid Greek costume. On the left of the painting appeared the young Venetian nobleman before described: he was on horseback, and watching, with looks of deep interest and excitement, the issue of a mortal combat between the two prominent figures in La Scoperta. But here the younger man was no longer in the plain and unassuming garb of an artist. He was attired in a richly embroidered vest of scarlet and gold; white pantaloons of woven silk displayed advantageously the full and perfect contour of his limbs; while a short mantello of dark-blue velvet fell gracefully from his shoulders, and a glossy feather in his Spanish hat waved over his fine features, which told an eloquent tale of triumph and of gratified revenge.

His antagonist, a man of large and muscular proportions, was apparelled as in the other picture, excepting that he had no mantle, and was cased in back and breast armour of scaled steel. He had been just disarmed; his sword, of formidable length, had flown above his head; while a naked dagger lay on the ground under his left hand, which hung lifeless by his side, and from a gaping wound in the wrist issued a stream of blood.

The sword-point of the young painter was buried in the throat of his mailed opponent, whose livid hue and rayless eyeballs already indicated that his wound was mortal.

I was intently gazing upon these mysterious pictures when my friend entered the saloon, and in reply to my eager inquiries, informed me that the series of paintings around us portrayed some romantic family incidents which had occurred in the sixteenth century; and that these frescos had been designed by an able amateur artist, who was indeed the hero of this romance of Italian life, and after whom this apartment was still called the Saloon of Colonna. The late proprietor of the villa, he continued, had mentioned some years since the discovery of a manuscript in the library, which gave a detailed account of the incidents on these pictured walls, and which, if we could find it, would well reward the trouble of perusal.

My curiosity received a fresh impulse from this intelligence. Telling my friend that I would investigate his books while he visited his tenants, I proceeded after breakfast to the library; and, after some hours of fruitless search, I discovered, in a mass of worm-eaten manuscripts, an untitled, but apparently connected narrative, which forcibly arrested my attention by the romantic charm of the incidents, the energy of the language, and the spirited criticisms on fine art with which it was interwoven. The hero of the tale was an ardent and imaginative Italian; at once a painter and an improvisatore; a man of powerful and expansive intellect; and glowing with intense enthusiasm for classic and ancient lore, and for the beautiful in art and nature. The diction of this manuscript was, like the man it portrayed, lofty and impassioned; and, when describing the rich landscapes of Italy, or the wonders of human art which adorn that favoured region, it occasionally rose into a sustained harmony, a rhythmical beauty and balance, of which no modern language but that of Italy is susceptible. Dipping at random through its pages, I saw with delight the name of Colonna; and, ere long, discovered an animated description of the singular scene portrayed in La Scoperta.

On my friend’s return in the evening, I held up the manuscript in triumph as he approached; and, after a repast in the Colonna saloon, F——i, who, although a Venetian, could read his native tongue with Roman purity of accent, opened at my request the time-stained volume, and read as follows.

CHAPTER I.

On a bright May morning, in the year 1575, my gondola was gliding under the guns of a Turkish frigate in the harbour of Venice, when she fired a broadside in compliment to the Doge’s marriage with the Adriatic. The rolling of the stately vessel gave a sudden impulse to the light vehicle in which I was then standing to obtain a better view of the festivities around me; the unexpected and stunning report deprived me for a moment of self-possession and balance, and I was precipitated into the water. The encumbrance of a cloak rendered swimming impracticable, and, after some vain attempts to remain on the surface, I went down. When restored to consciousness, I found myself in the gondola, supported by a young man, whose dripping garments told me that I had been saved from untimely death by his courage and promptitude. “Our bath has been a cold one,” said he, addressing me with a friendly and cheering smile. Too much exhausted to reply, I could only grasp his hand with silent and expressive fervour. This incident deprived the festival of all attraction; and, soon as I had regained sufficient strength, the young stranger proposed that we should return to the city for a change of dress. Still weak and exhausted, I gladly assented to his proposal, and we left the Bucentoro escorted by a thousand vessels, and saluted by the thunders of innumerable cannon, proceeding to the open sea to celebrate the high espousals.

My companion left me at the portal of my father’s palace. He refused to enter it, nor would he reveal his name and residence; but he embraced me cordially, and promised an early visit. During the remainder of the day, I could not for a moment banish the image of my unknown benefactor from my memory. It was obvious, from his accent, that he was no Venetian. His language was the purest Tuscan, and conveyed in a voice rich, deep, and impassioned, beyond any in my experience. He was attired in the dark and homely garb of a student in painting; but he was in the full bloom of youth, and his tall figure was cast in the finest mould of manlike beauty. His raven locks clustered round a lofty and capacious brow; his full dark eyes sparkled with intelligence and fire; while his fresh and finely-compressed lips indicated habits of decision and refinement, and gave a nameless charm to all he uttered. His deportment was noble and commanding; his step bounding and elastic; and there was an impressive and startling vehemence, a fervour and impetuosity in every look and gesture, which made me regard him as one of a new and almost supernatural order of beings. My heart swelled with an aching and uncontrollable impatience to see him again, which quickened every pulse to feverish rapidity; my senses, however, were still confused and giddy with long immersion in the water, and I endeavoured to recruit my exhausted powers by repose. The evening found me more tranquil, and I wandered forth to view the regatta on the grand canal. These boat-races greatly contribute to form the skill and energy which distinguish the Venetian mariners. Strength, dexterity, and ardour, are indispensable to success in contending for the prizes; and the eager competition of the candidates imparts an intense interest to these festivities, which require only a Pindar to elevate them into classical importance. The entire surface of the spacious canal was foaming with the dash of oars, and resounding with the exuberant gaiety of the Venetians; while the tapestried balconies of the surrounding palaces were crowded with all the beauty and chivalry of Venice; and the glittering windows reflected the rays of the setting sun upon happy faces innumerable.

Proceeding to the place of St Mark, I paced in a contemplative mood over its surface until the day closed, and the night-breeze diffused a delicious coolness. I looked into several of the taverns under the arcades to observe the company assembled, and fancied that I discerned in one of them the generous youth who had rescued me from such imminent danger. Availing myself of Venetian privilege, I entered without unmasking, and found my conjecture verified. This tavern was the habitual resort of the artists resident in Venice, and the assembled individuals appeared to be engaged in vehement controversy.

Paul Veronese was addressing them as I entered. “Who,” said he, “is most competent to pass judgment upon a work of art? Certainly the man who has accurately observed the appearances of nature, and who can determine the limits of art. I despise the dotards who contend that a man of taste and intellect must have been a dauber of canvass, before he can decide upon the merits of a picture. The ludicrous certificate of approval which the German horse-dealers chalked upon the bronze horses of St Mark’s, outweighed, in my estimation, a volume of professional cant. Trained to a sound knowledge of their trade in the studs of Germany, they felt and understood all the excellence of these magnificent works of art. They recognised at once the noble character of the animal, and even distinguished the peculiar attributes of each individual horse. The superlative excellence of their heads, and the fiery impatience of control which they exhibit, cannot be understood or conveyed by mere perseverance in drawing. No painter, who resides in the interior, can understand the merits of a sea-piece; nor can the devout Fra Bartolomeo criticise a Venus of our venerable Titian so well as any despot of the East who owns a seraglio.”

“True,” replied another artist, whose full round tones and rich emphasis bespoke him a Roman; “but taste is not intuitive; nor can it be attained by merely studying the appearances of nature and the theories of art. We must also explore the rich treasures of painting which adorn and dignify our beautiful Italy. It is not enough, however, to study a single specimen of each great master; we must patiently and repeatedly examine his progressive improvements and his various styles. By perseverance in this process, a young artist will beneficially exercise his eye and his judgment, and will readily distinguish the best pictures in a collection. Any degree of discipline short of this will be inadequate to raise him above the level of the mob, which followed in procession the Madonna of Cimabue, and lauded it as the ne plus ultra of art because they had never seen anything better.”

The young stranger now addressed them with much animation: “I presume not to decide,” said he, “how far the last speaker is correct in his opinions. The incessant noise on the piazza precludes any deliberate consideration of the subject; but so far as I could collect the subject of Maestro Paul’s opinion, I understood him to insist upon the necessity of knowing the limits of art. I trust he will pardon so young an artist for uttering sentiments at variance with his own; and that I shall not lose ground in his esteem if I contend that every object in art is material, and that ideal forms and models of excellence are absurdities. An Aspasia and a Phryne, youthful and lovely, maybe elevated into a Pallas and a Venus by an able and imaginative painter, whose excited fancy will readily improve upon his models, and invest each feature, form, and attitude, with classical and appropriate expression. But an ideal and perfectly beautiful woman, destitute of every attribute arising from climate and national peculiarities, is a phantom of the brain. And yet how many common-place artists, who have consumed the most valuable portion of their lives in drawing from plaster-casts, call these insufferably vacant faces and forms genuine art, and affect to look down upon the master-spirits who have immortalised themselves by matchless portraits of the great men and beautiful women of their own times!”

The parties soon after separated, and Paul Veronese left the tavern, accompanied by the stranger. I followed, and observed them walking round the piazza, and pausing occasionally to listen to the melodious barcarolos, and sportive sallies of the gay Venetians. At the entrance of the Merceria the youth saluted and left his companion, and I promptly availed myself of the opportunity to unmask and approach him. He immediately recognised me, and expressed himself gratified to observe that my accident had been unattended with evil consequence. I repeated warmly my acknowledgments, and assured him of my ardent wish to prove my gratitude by rendering him any service in my power. He appeared, however, rather disconcerted than pleased by these professions, and exclaimed with some vehemence, “What have I done for you that I would not readily have attempted for the lowest of human beings? How many a wretch throws himself from a precipice into the deep to bring up a paltry coin! I have been taught to think that exaggerated praise for the performance of a mere act of duty has a tendency to promote vanity and cowardice; and I predict the decay of true heroism and public spirit from the growing practice of commemorating trivial events and trivial men by statues, columns, and inscriptions.”

“You may disclaim all merit,” I replied; “but I cannot forget that, to save the life of a stranger, you bounded from the lofty bulwark of a frigate. I maintain that there is something god-like in the man who hazards his life with such generous promptitude; and I think you cannot but admit that gratitude is the strongest and most agreeable tie which binds society together. Surely, then, if the fervent and enthusiastic expression of it be a failing, it is an amiable one.”

He took my hand and gave me a look of cordial sympathy, but said nothing in reply. I warmly urged him to pass the evening with me; he assented, and we proceeded in a gondola up the grand canal to my abode. During supper the conversation was gay and spirited, but confined to generalities; and it was not until we were released from the presence of menials that our ideas flowed with unrestrained freedom and confidence. The government and state-policy of Venice were passed in review; and my guest lauded the wisdom of the senate in having embraced the first opportunity of concluding with honour the arduous struggle they had maintained against the formidable power of Turkey. He rejoiced that the Doge could again espouse the Adriatic sea-nymph with all the accustomed display of pomp and power, and remarked how essential to the safety and independence of Venice was the uninterrupted annual celebration of a festival which fostered the pride and courage of the people.

“Our ancient bride,” I replied, “has of late exhibited some ominous symptoms of caprice and inconstancy. The ceremony should have taken place two days since, but the wild goddess was restive and untameable, and insulted the old Doge, her destined spouse, by rolling the bodies of a dozen drowned wretches up the grand canal to the stairs of his palace. Pope Alexander III., who exercised some influence over the capricious fair one, is unfortunately no more; and Columbus, the hero of whom Genoa proved herself so unworthy, has explored and subdued for the princes of Castile the genuine Amphitrite, in comparison with whom the bride of Venice is a mere nymph.”

“The destinies of Venice,” he observed, with a touch of sarcasm in his manner, “must be accomplished. She has reached, and probably passed, the climax of her political greatness. Other nations, in the vigour of youth, and possessing greater local advantages, have commenced their maritime career, and this proud republic must submit to decline and fall, as mightier states have done before her. Already I perceive symptoms of unsoundness in her political institutions, of declining energy and shallow policy in the conduct of her wars and negotiations. If you could not preserve by resolute defence the Isle of Cyprus, which has owned your sway for a century, you might have saved it by the easy and obvious expedient of allowing the Sultan to receive at a cheaper rate his annual supply of its delicious wines, and by refusing to shelter in the harbour of Famaugusta the Christian corsairs who capture the beauties destined for the seraglio. The sweet island of Love is now lost for ever to the state of Venice, and its incomparable wines become every year more rare and costly throughout Italy.”

The keen edge of his remarks touched me sensibly, and wounded all my pride of birth and country. This revulsion of feeling did not escape the quick perceptions of my guest: the recollection that he was speaking thus unguardedly to the son of a Venetian senator seemed to flash upon him, and he closed the discussion by remarking, with a smile, that we were in Venice, that Venetian walls possessed the faculty of hearing, and that there would be discretion in a change of subject. I briefly assented to the necessity of being guarded in the vicinity of Venetian domestics, who were occasionally agents of the police; and, after a pause of recollection, he resumed.

“It is time,” said he, “that I should speak of myself and of my object in Venice. I am a native of Florence, and a painter. Wearied and disgusted with the skeletons of Florentine art, I came here to study the flesh and blood of the Venetian school. The works of Titian realise everything which is valuable and essential in the art of painting, and the student who does not pursue the track of this great master will never attain high rank as a painter. In Venice, the public voice has supreme jurisdiction in matters of taste and fine art, and the artists collectively exercise little influence on public opinion. Titian fascinates all amateurs, and every artist admits his incomparable excellence in the great essential of painting, which is truth of colouring.”

“I am still too much a novice in the theories of your beautiful art,” I replied, “to contend this point with you; but you will pardon me if I suggest the probability that you are disgusted with the severity of the Tuscan school. Your abhorrence of the yoke you have escaped from impels you to the other extreme, and your admiration of Venetian art is heightened by contrasting the flesh and blood of Titian with the bones and sinews of Michael Angelo. Nevertheless, I will hazard a prediction, that instead of abandoning for ever the sound principles of the Florentine school, you will eventually resume and abide by them. Our graceful Titian is the prince of colourists, but it must be admitted that his drawing seldom rises above mediocrity.”

“You must excuse me,” he retorted with a smile, “if I doubt whether your position can be maintained. I infer from the tendency of your remarks that you consider drawing of primary importance. I admit that drawing is essential to give truth and symmetry of proportion, and is therefore a necessary evil; but a finished picture represents the surfaces of things: surfaces are distinguishable only by colouring, and therefore I maintain that colouring is the real object—the alpha and omega—of art. To class drawing above painting, is to prefer the scaffold to the building—the rude and early stages to the full and rich maturity of art. What are the sharp and vigorous lines of Michael Angelo but dreams and shadows, compared with the pure and exquisite vitality of a head by Titian? Any beardless tyro may, by plodding industry, produce a drawing as accurate, if not as free, as the off-hand sketches of Raffaelle; but to delineate real life with its exquisitely blended tints and demi-tints; its tender outlines, and evanescent shades of character and expression,—to accomplish all this by lines and angles is impossible. It requires the magic aid of colouring, controlled by that deep and rare perception of the beautiful, that wondrous harmony of intellect and feeling, which is the immediate gift of heaven, and the proudest, highest attribute of man.”

“I am by no means insensible to the charms of the Venetian school,” I rejoined; “and I admit, in many respects, the force of your reasoning. It is, however, a question with me, whether the enthusiastic disciples of Titian are not in danger of pursuing the material and perishable, rather than the intellectual and permanent in painting. The glorious colouring of this great master will fade under the action of time and humidity, and betray his deficiencies in drawing; whereas the moral grandeur of Michael Angelo’s frescos, which derive no aid from colour, will endure as long as the walls which they adorn. I would gladly hear you contest this point with the Roman artist who addressed Maestro Paul this evening at the tavern. I feel too much my own deficiency in technical phrase and knowledge to vindicate my opinions successfully.”

“That Roman,” said he, “is an intellectual and accomplished man, but he wants a painter’s eye, and should rather have devoted his time and talents to literature. He has, however, pursued the fine arts professionally, and he is eloquent and resolute in the defence of his opinions: but the nature which he has studied is destitute of life and colouring; it exists only in marble and plaster, and he would rather copy the single and motionless attitude of an antique statue, than study the fine forms and eloquent features with which Italy abounds. He is, in short, a sedentary idler, who will not take the trouble to read the great book of nature, and would rather fire at a wooden eagle on a pole, than pursue the kingly bird amidst the wild scenery of the Apennines. He assumed the unwarrantable liberty of severely censuring Paul Veronese’s grand picture of the ‘Nuptials of Cana,’ in the presence of that noble artist. He objected to the insignificant appearance of Jesus and his disciples, and to their position at the table in the middle-ground of the picture. The painter introduced them into this great work because their presence was indispensable; but he avoided giving them any prominent position, conceiving it impossible for any human artist to convey an adequate personification of our glorious Redeemer. Moreover, they were but accessary to his real object, which was to represent the busy crowd of guests, the banquet, and the architecture. In these respects the artist has been eminently successful. The painting abounds with harmony, and the incidents are told with all the life and spirit of a Spanish novel. The most prominent figures are musicians at a table in the foreground, performing a concert upon elegant instruments. Paul Veronese is leading with grace and spirit on the violin; Titian, the great ruler of harmony, is performing on the violoncello; Bassano and Tintorett, upon other instruments. They are painted with wonderful truth of character and expression; they are magnificently attired; and their personal appearance is eminently noble and dignified. Around the bride’s table are assembled the most distinguished personages of the present age; all admirable portraits, and abounding with dramatic expression. The atmosphere in the background is clear and transparent, and exhibits in sharp and brilliant relief the Palladian magnificence of the architecture; while the busy foreground is enriched with a gorgeous display of vases and other materials of the banquet, adorned with chasings of splendid and classical design. The light throughout the foreground and middle distance is wonderfully natural, and clearly develops the numerous groups and figures comprehended in this colossal work. What man of sense and feeling can behold this wondrous achievement of human art, and not long to feast his eyes upon it for ever?

“This fastidious Roman expressed also his annoyance at the inaccuracy of the costume, in Paul’s fine picture of the ‘Family of Darius presented to Alexander,’ and lamented that so admirable a work should have been blemished by this gross anachronism. You are, doubtless, well acquainted with a painting which belongs to a branch of your family. It may be truly called the triumph of colouring; and certainly more harmony, splendour, and loveliness, never met together in one picture. To these merits must be added the truth of character which prevails in all the heads, most of which are portraits. Forget for a moment that the incident is borrowed from ancient story; imagine it the victory of a hero of the sixteenth century, and the painting becomes, in all respects, a masterpiece. The architecture, in the background, gives a tone to the whole; but it required the delicate outlines and the exquisite perception of harmonious colouring which distinguish Paul Veronese, to give relief and contrast to the figures and draperies on so light a ground. The pyramidal group, formed by an old man and four female figures, is superlatively lovely; the countenances wonderfully expressive, and sparkling with animation. The head of Alexander is beautiful, but deficient in masculine firmness, and more adapted to charm the softer sex than to awe the world; while the nobler features of Parmenia exhibit a strength of character finely contrasted with the more feminine graces of the royal conqueror, and his yellow drapery is admirably folded and coloured. How exquisitely finished, too, is the long and beautifully braided flaxen hair of the Persian Princesses! And what a host of figures in this noble picture, most of them the size of life, as in the ‘Nuptials of Cana!’ Certainly, this painting is nearly unrivalled in close fidelity to nature; and in the truth and splendour of its colouring, it yields only to that triumphant specimen of Venetian art in the Scuola della Carità, Titian’s ‘Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple,’ These two pictures will long maintain their glorious supremacy, and will probably never be surpassed. This painter’s violation of costume is, in fact, only a defect in the eyes of antiquarians. The great mass of society overlook it, and care only for what gratifies the eye and the imagination. Nevertheless I would recommend to artists generally the avoidance of subjects borrowed from ancient history. It is far easier to excel in the folds and colourings of modern drapery, than to delineate the light garb and native elegance of Grecian forms. Nor could any painters, but those who lived in the times of Pericles and Aspasia, do justice to those most classical and graceful of all subjects. Oh! how I burn with impatient ardour to behold the storied isles and continent of Greece! Their ancient splendour is no more, but their pure and temperate clime still develops the noblest specimens of the human race.”

“Had our acquaintance commenced some years sooner,” said I, interrupting him, “I could have gratified your wish. I accompanied my father, who went to Greece on a mission from the republic, and I remained three years on the classic soil of Homer and Sophocles. I was too young to make the most of my opportunities, but I succeeded in my attempts to master the modern language, and at the same time greatly improved my knowledge of ancient Greek.”

At these words my companion started impetuously from his chair, and strained me in a vehement embrace.

“Oh! rare and fortunate incident!” he exclaimed; “you are the companion I have so long and vainly sought. A man so distinguished by nobility of mind and person, and yet so young, it has never been my good fortune to meet with. You will, you must be, the chosen friend of my soul!”

I could not but suspect that some mystery was involved in this abrupt and somewhat premature tender of his friendship; but I returned his embrace with grateful ardour. It was impossible to resist the contagion of his impassioned and headlong feelings. I trembled with emotion, and vainly endeavoured to express in connected language how greatly I valued his good opinion. It was midnight when he left me, promising a long and early visit on the succeeding day.

I retired to bed in a state of excitement which banished sleep. To subdue the vivid impression made upon me by the events of the day and evening was impossible. I had, perhaps too unwarily, given a pledge of fervent and enduring friendship to a man whose name and connections were a mystery, and of whose character and previous life my ignorance was absolute: but the singular charm of his language and deportment was even enhanced by the obscurity which enveloped him, and I yielded unresistingly to the spell in which he had bound me.

I had never yet beheld the man whose tastes and pursuits assimilated so entirely with my own. He was, however, incomparably my superior in natural and acquired advantages. He possessed more variety, more fulness and accuracy of knowledge, and he displayed a vigour and opulence of language which often rose with the occasion into the lofty and impassioned eloquence of poetry. His soul was more expansive and liberal than mine, but at the same time more uncontrolled, rash, and intemperate. He had doubtless those defects, which, in Italy, often accompany an ardent and impetuous character; and, under strong provocation, he would not hesitate probably to inflict an unsparing and formidable revenge: but surely a generous heart and a commanding intellect will redeem many failings, and even palliate those desperate alternatives to which men of noble nature and of pure intention are sometimes impelled by the defects of our social institutions.

CHAPTER II.

At an early hour on the following morning I heard the emphatic tread of the young painter in the corridor. In a moment he entered my apartment, and his appearance renewed in some degree my emotion. “Our feelings had too much of lyric riot in them last night,” said he, smiling; “such excitement is exhausting, and cannot be long sustained without approximation to fever. I shall never learn moderation in my attachments, but I am resolved to lower the expression of them to a more temperate standard; and with this object I will, if agreeable to you, endeavour to create occupation for our intellects as well as our feelings.”

He then inquired if I had practised drawing, and to what extent. I told him that I had been in the habit of sketching the fine lake and mountain scenery of Lombardy; but that my ambition was to draw the human figure from living models, which I regarded as the only avenue by which any degree of excellence could be attained.

“If you will accept of my assistance,” he replied, “we can immediately commence a course of elementary studies of the human figure; after which,” added he sportively, “you may employ me as a model. In return for my instructions in painting, you must promote my ardent wish to attain a competent knowledge of modern Greek. I have a sacred duty to perform in one of the Greek islands, and shall proceed there in the ensuing autumn.”

“We cannot effectually realise your suggestion,” I rejoined, “unless we abandon for a while the riot and revelry of Venice. My father is at present in Dalmatia, and I am pledged to pass the summer in the country with my excellent and respected mother, who is preparing for departure, and will probably quit Venice at the close of the present week. The villa we inhabit during the summer heats is in the most charming district of Lombardy, and near the spot where the rapid Mincio receives the pure waters of the lake of Garda. You must accompany me to this earthly paradise, where we can enjoy the cool breezes from the lake and mountains, and explore the bright scenery of its classic shores and the peninsula of Sirmio, sung in glowing verse by Catullus. There we can repose under the dark umbrage of orange and myrtle groves, drink deep of the beauties of Pindar, and bind our temples with wreaths of laurel. But I have not yet introduced you to my mother. She is aware that a stranger saved me from a watery death in the harbour, and will welcome gratefully the preserver of her only son. She has a fine taste for pictures, and is an enthusiastic admirer of beautiful Madonnas. If you will paint one for her private chapel, and subdue in some measure the impetuous ardour of your deportment in her presence, she will receive and cherish you as a son.”

While thus addressing him, I perceived a sudden contraction of his fine features, indicative of strong internal emotion, the mystery of which was not developed for a considerable period after this conversation. At length he approached me, and, with a look of intense interest, inquired how near my father’s villa was to Peschiera on the lake of Garda. “Within a league of it,” I replied. Again he paced the apartment in silent abstraction, when suddenly his eagle-eye was lighted up with more than its wonted fire, and he exclaimed with animation, “Agreed! I will accompany you to Lombardy, and should I prove acceptable to your mother as a guest, I will paint a Madonna for her chapel. On my discretion, and my respect for her habits and feelings, you may rely.”

On the succeeding day I introduced him to my mother. The elegant freedom of his address, and the spirit and originality of his conversation, made an immediate and favourable impression upon my beloved parent; and she afterwards acknowledged to me that, independently of his noble exterior, and his powerful claim upon her gratitude, she had never been so strongly prepossessed. It was on this occasion that he named himself Colonna. Since his refusal to reveal his name on the first day of our acquaintance, I had never repeated the inquiry. Subsequently, however, I discovered that this appellation had been assumed under circumstances of a disastrous and compulsory nature. After his interview with my mother, I accompanied him to his abode, where I was gratified with a view of the paintings and sketches which he had executed in Venice. His figures were fresh and masterly; his colouring had all the brilliant glow of the Venetian painters; while his bold and beautiful designs betrayed, as I had anticipated, the accurate drawing of the Tuscan school. His studies were from the antique, and from Italian life: naked figures, or with little drapery; female heads abounding with expression and loveliness; arms and legs, backs and busts; naked boys, bathing, running, and wrestling. He intimated that he had never yet painted for emolument, nor for the gratification of others; and added, carelessly, “what farther concerns me shall be revealed to you in our hours of leisure by the lake of Garda.”

On the appointed morning we quitted Venice. Our bark issued from the grand canal at an early hour, glided silently over the smooth surface of the laguna, and approached the entrance of the Brenta. The sun was rising in veiled and purple majesty through the soft mists of a summer morning, and the towers and churches of Venice appeared floating in thin vapour. Colonna ascended the deck, and, folding his arms, gazed with evident emotion on the “City of Palaces,” until it disappeared behind a bank of fog. His chest heaved with some powerful sympathy, and, for a moment, tears suffused his eyes and veiled their brightness. His manner implied, I thought, some painful recollections, or a presentiment that he should never behold Venice again. To me our departure was a source of relief and enjoyment. In the winter season Venice is a cheerful and desirable abode, because the population is dense, and the local peculiarities contribute greatly to promote public and private festivity: but, during the heats of summer and the exhalations of autumn, no place is more offensive and pestilential.

At Padua we separated from my mother, who proceeded with her domestics by the direct road to Peschiera, while Colonna and I made a deviation to Vicenza, whither we journeyed on foot; a mode of travelling the most favourable to colloquial enjoyment, and to an accurate and comprehensive view of the country. We found the numerous edifices of Palladio in Vicenza and its vicinity in many respects unworthy of that noble architect; many of them are indeed remodelled fronts of old houses, in which the pure taste of the artist was warped by the want of capability in the original elevations. The palaces built after his designs are deficient in extent and variety, and may be termed experimental models, rather than effective illustrations, of his chaste and classical conceptions. In his triumphal arch at the entrance of the Campo Marzo we found much to admire, and not less in his beautiful bridge which spans the Bacchiglione. How bold, and light, and elegant the arch, like the daring leap of a youthful amazon! And how cheerful the open balustrade, through which the clear and sparkling waters are seen rolling their rapid course to the adjacent city!

It is in Venice that the fine genius of Palladio develops all its supremacy. The Cornaro palace on the grand canal, and the unfinished convent of La Carità, are splendid efforts of pure taste in design and decoration; and as perfect in execution and finish as if cast in a mould. His churches too, especially that glorious edifice, Al Redentore—how simple in design, and yet how beautifully effective and harmonious in proportion and outline!

We proceeded on the following morning to Verona, which excited a stronger interest than Vicenza by its classical associations and striking position on the river Adige, a lively daughter of the Alps. Rushing from her mountain bed, she urges her rapid and devious course through the city, dividing it into two portions, connected by the bridge of Scaliger. This fine edifice rises on bold arches, wider, and more heroic, and more scientific, than that of the Rialto, the wonder of Venice, which is indeed no bridge, but a huge and inconvenient staircase.

Pursuing as we journeyed onward the subject of architecture, I commented on the insignificant appearance of the temples of Pantheism, when compared with the majestic cathedrals for which the Christian world is indebted to the barbarians of the middle ages.

“The Greeks and Romans,” observed Colonna, “erected a temple to each individual of their numerous deities. These buildings were consequently of limited extent, and their columns of corresponding proportions. The citizens sacrificed singly to the gods, or attended public festivals, comprehending large masses of the people; in which event the officiating priest or priestess entered the temple, and the assembled votaries were grouped without. In our churches, on the contrary, the population of a city is often congregated for hours; and how magnificently adapted for this object is the vast and solemn interior of a Gothic cathedral, in which the voice of the priest reverberates like thunder, and the chorus of the people rises like a mountain-gust, praising the great Father of all, and rousing the affrighted conscience of the infidel; while the mighty organ, the tyrant of music, rages like a hurricane, and rolls his deep floods of sound in sublime accompaniment! How grand were the conceptions of the rational barbarians, to whom Europe is indebted for these vast and noble structures! And how immeasurably they surpass, for all meditative and devotional objects, the modern application of Greek and Roman temples, on an enlarged scale, to the purposes of Christian worship! Had any necessity existed to borrow designs from these sources, we should rather have modelled our churches from their theatres, the plan of which is admirably fitted for oratorical purposes, and for the accommodation of numbers.”

We accomplished the last portion of our journey during a night of superlative beauty. A brilliant and nearly full moon glided with us through long avenues of lofty elms, linked together by the clustering tendrils of vines, festooned from tree to tree, and at this season prodigal of foliage. The coruscations of distant lightning shot through the clear darkness of Italian night; the moon and evening star, and Sirius and Orion, soared above us in pure ether, and seemed to approach our sphere like guardian spirits. The cool breezes which usher in the dawn now began to whisper through the foliage; a light vapour arose in the east; and the soft radiance of the first sunbeams faintly illumined the horizon as we arrived at our destination. Here the romantic lake of Garda lay expanded before us; its broad surface ruffled by the mountain breeze, and gleaming like silver in the moonlight. The waves were heaving in broken and foaming masses, and reverberated along the rocky shores, finely illustrating the accuracy of Virgil’s descriptive line:

“Fluctibus et fremitu assurgens marino.”

I retired immediately to rest, not having slept for the preceding twenty-four hours; while Colonna preferred a morning walk, and wandered out to view the environs. In the course of the day we completed our domestic arrangements. My friend occupied a saloon on the north side of the villa, which commanded an extensive prospect, a light favourable for painting, and private egress into the open country; an accommodation which he requested, that his rambling and irregular habits might occasion no inconvenience to the other inmates of the mansion.

After a few days had been devoted to excursions upon and around the lake, and over the picturesque hills as far as Brescia, we commenced a more useful and methodical distribution of our time. Colonna began and completed the sketch of a Madonna for my mother, that he might work upon it at his leisure; and we read together the Greek poets and historians: nor did I forget to avail myself of my friend’s proffered assistance to improve my knowledge of drawing and design. Under his masterly guidance I persevered in drawing geometrical figures until I could trace them with quickness, freedom, and accuracy. He then annoyed me for a brief interval with skeletons and anatomical subjects, directing my attention to the articulation of the joints and the insertion of the muscles; after which I proceeded to copy his fine studies of human limbs, both round and muscular, and in the various attitudes of action and repose. Finally, I began to sketch from living models, and was pursuing my object with ardour and success, when a tragical event severed me for a considerable period from my beloved tutor and friend.

It had been arranged between us that each should, in his habits, be perfectly uncontrolled, and independent of the other. Our excursions were alternately separate, and in company, and Colonna was often absent from the villa for one or more days and nights, without exciting observation or surprise.

He delighted in ranging over the green pastures of Lombardy, hedged in by lofty trees, festooned with vines, and irrigated by transparent streams innumerable. The young Tuscan had never before seen nature in a garb so lovely and inviting; he wandered through the picturesque villages which margin or overhang the lake of Garda, sojourned with the peasantry, and sketched their figures and costume. From these rambles he would often return at sunset over the lake in a small bark, crowned like a youthful Bacchus with vine leaves and ivy, and singing wild Dithirambics to his guitar, while the surrounding villagers, by whom he was idolised, followed him in their boats with shouts of joy and festivity.

During the cool nights which, in this hilly region, temper the sickly heat of an Italian summer, we often wandered along the breezy shores of our classic Benacus, or sought refreshment in its dark blue waters. Colonna was an adept in the delightful exercise of swimming, and his instructions soon imparted to me requisite skill and self-possession. We plunged from the marble terraces of the villa into the delicious element, cleaving its moonlit waves, and sporting over its wide surface like water-gods.

The Madonna for my mother was finished in August. The artist had selected the incident of the flight into Egypt, and the mother of Jesus was reposing in deep shade, under the giant arms and dense foliage of a maple tree. In the middle distance, a few ilex and cypress trees were effectively and naturally distributed. The background was mountain scenery; and from a lofty cliff a river was precipitated, in a bold and picturesque fall. The waters rebounded from the gulf below in silver spray, and flowed through a verdant level into a tranquil and beautiful lake. The most romantic features of the wilderness around the lake of Garda were faithfully and beautifully introduced; and the brilliant rays of a sun approaching the horizon, threw a flood of gold over rock, and wood, and water. The Madonna was a young and lovely woman, giving nourishment to her first-born son, and bending over her pleasing task with delighted attention. The head of the Virgin was after a sketch from life, but developed and elevated in character, and invested with a breathing tenderness, a hallowed innocence and purity of expression, which at once thrilled and saddened the beholder. The boy was a model of infantine beauty; he supported himself with one little hand on his mother’s breast, which was partially veiled with red drapery, and he had raised his cherub head and glossy curls from the sweet fount of life, to look with bright and earnest gaze upon the glowing landscape. The luxuriant brown hair of the Madonna was confined in a net, from which a few locks had strayed over her brow and cheek; and her blue mantle flowed with modest grace over her fine person, revealing, through its light and well-distributed folds, the graceful and easy position of the limbs. The eyes of both were radiantly bright, and in the large, well-opened orbs of the infant Saviour, the painter had introduced a something never seen in life—a premature and pathetic seriousness, awfully indicative of his high and hallowed destiny. Above the stately plane-tree were soaring three angels of more than Grecian beauty; and their features, in which a sacred innocence of look was blended with feminine grace and softness, reminded me powerfully of that exquisite design in Raffaelle’s pictorial Bible—the “three angels before Abraham’s threshold.”

In the middle-distance the ass was grazing, and Joseph, whose features the artist had borrowed from the well-chiselled head of an old peasant, stood leaning on his staff, like a faithful servant who has succeeded in rescuing from imminent peril the treasure intrusted to him. The picture was upright and on a large scale; the Madonna and Bambino were painted the size of life, and the rich colouring of the heads and draperies was finely relieved by the local tints and highly finished bark and leafage of the plane-tree, behind which the immense landscape receded in wide and brilliant perspective.

My mother was inexpressibly delighted with this valuable token of his regard, and her affection for the highly-gifted painter became truly maternal.

About this period I remarked a mysterious change in the looks and habits of Colonna. His prompt and flowing language gave place to a moody and oppressive silence; his deportment was occasionally more abrupt and impassioned; and his eloquent features betrayed some hidden source of grief and perplexity. The increased duration and frequency of his rambles from the villa excited at length my attention and remonstrance. In justification, he pleaded, as before, that he was a man of itinerant habits, and too mercurial in temperament to remain long in any place. This explanation had now, however, ceased to be satisfactory. Our intercourse was obviously less cordial and incessant. He had of late rarely sought my society in his excursions, and this circumstance, in connection with his altered look and manner, made me suspect some change in his feelings towards me. I determined to solve a mystery so painful and embarrassing, and succeeded ere long in obtaining his confession, during a still and beautiful night, a large portion of which we passed together in a myrtle arbour, which crowned a cool eminence in the villa gardens. We had passed some hours in this delicious solitude, enjoying the pure night-breeze, and admiring the soft and silver tints diffused by an Italian moon over the lake and landscape. Our spirits were elevated by wine, and song, and conversation; and our hearts communed together, and expanded into more than usual freedom and confidence. I described to him the fair objects of several fleeting attachments, and acknowledged that my experience of female excellence had never yet realised the expectations I had formed. “I anticipated from you, however,” I continued, “some illustrations of that wayward thing, the human heart. A youth so ardent in feeling, and so adorned by nature and education, must necessarily have had no limited experience of the tender passion; and surely some of the beautiful heads in your portfolio have been sketched from life, and con amore.”

“I do not willingly,” he replied, “enter upon acknowledgments of this nature. They tend to excite feelings of envy, and sometimes expose the warmest friendship to a severe test. We have now, however, enjoyed abundant opportunity to study the lights, and shades, and inmost recesses of our respective characters, and as you have made me your father-confessor, I shall no longer hesitate to repose in you a responsive and unbounded confidence. Know, then, that I love, with all the enthusiasm of a first passion, the most beautiful woman of her time—that she is the only daughter of the proudest senator in Venice—that she is no stranger to your family, and now resides within a league of us. Her name is Laura Foscari; and she is, alas! the destined and unwilling bride of the opulent Ercole Barozzo, governor of Candia.”

At this unexpected intelligence, I almost started on my feet with astonishment. My consternation was too great for utterance, and I listened with breathless and eager attention.

“We became acquainted,” he continued, “by a singular accident. I had long admired her as the most lovely woman in Venice. Her head has all the beauty of a fine antique, lighted up by dark eyes of radiant lustre, and heightened by a smile of magic power and sweetness. I have more than once sketched her unrivalled features when she was kneeling at church, and her fine eyes were upraised in devotional rapture. In public places, and at mass, I had frequently seen her, and our eyes had so often met, that she could not but learn from mine how fervently I admired her. My endeavours to obtain an introduction as an artist to her father and brothers had been unsuccessful, and at length I was indebted to a fortunate incident for an opportunity of conversing with her unobserved. One evening, near the close of the last Carnival, I saw her enter with her friends the place of St Mark, near the new church of San Geminiano. She wore only a half-mask, and her graceful mien and fine person could not be disguised. My mask and domino were similar to those of her youngest brother, who resembled me also somewhat in person. The imperfect light and the confusion of the assembled crowd separated her from her party; and while endeavouring to rejoin them, she approached me, mistook me for her brother, put her arm within mine, and with charming vivacity, whispered in my ear some comments on the motley groups around us. You will readily conjecture that I promptly availed myself of the brief and golden opportunity. I glanced rapidly around, and finding that we were unobserved, I partially raised my mask. She had so often observed me gazing upon her with undisguised and rapturous admiration, that she recognised me at once, and tacitly acknowledged it by a blush which suffused every visible feature with crimson. In glowing and beautiful confusion she attempted to withdraw her arm, but I retained it firmly, and in low but emphatic tones, I told her that I had long loved her with sincerity and ardour; that I could fairly boast of constancy and discretion, of education and refinement; that no man so well understood her value, or would encounter and endure so much to win her affections. All this and more I poured into her ear with rapid and glowing diction, and with the impassioned gesture which is natural to me. Timid and irresolute, she accompanied me some paces, paused, and in trembling emotion again attempted to withdraw her arm, but was still urged forward by my impetuosity. At length, by a sudden effort, she escaped; but, as she quitted, whispered with bewitching hesitation and timidity—‘To-morrow morning, at Santi Giovanni e Paolo.’ Soon as these words fell on my delighted ear, I plunged into the crowd of masks, in token of my discretion and prompt obedience to her will. The emotion excited by this early and unexpected proof of sympathy was so rapturous and overwhelming, that I abandoned myself to all the extravagance of sudden bliss. I flew on wings of ecstasy along the streets, bounded over the stairs of the Rialto, and reached my abode in a state of mind bordering on delirium. During that interminable but delicious night I neither sought nor wished for repose. I felt as if I had never known sleep—as if I should never sleep again; and, when my waking dreams occasionally yielded to brief and agitated slumber, my excited feelings called up a flitting train of images not less vivid and enchanting.

“Long before the commencement of the early mass, I had reached the church indicated by the beauteous Laura. I was the first to enter it, and I waited her arrival with an impatience which no words can describe. Never had the celebration of the mass appeared to me so wearisome and monotonous; and, in hopes to subdue in some measure the wild agitation which chafed me, I withdrew the curtain which veiled Titian’s divine picture of Pietro Martire, in which the saint lies wounded and dying before his assassin. The companion of the prostrate Pietro is endeavouring to escape a similar fate; and two angels, whose features are not Italian but Greek, are soaring amidst the foliage, environed with a heavenly lustre, which throws its bright effulgence over the foreground of the immense landscape. What a masterpiece! How full of animation and contrast! What rich and lively local tints in the slender and graceful stems of the lofty chestnuts, which are painted the size of nature! And how naturally the glorious landscape fades into the blue and distant mountains! The half-naked murderer has all the ferocity of a mountain bandit, in figure, attitude, and menace; while the wounded saint exhibits in his pale and collapsed features the dying agony of a good man, blended with a consciousness that he has achieved the rewarding glories of martyrdom.

“But no masterpiece could allay the glowing tumults of my soul, and again I paced the church with feverish impatience. At length the peerless Laura entered, and, alas, poor Titian! the charms of thy creative pencil withered as she approached—the vivid splendours of thy colouring faded before the paramount beauties of nature! She was attired in the picturesque garb and head-dress of Venice; her veil was raised; and her fine countenance, radiant with beauty and intelligence, imparted life, dignity, and lustre to every surrounding object.

“She was accompanied by her mother, and after prostration before the altar, they retired to their devotions in the body of the church. I stood in a position which enabled me to observe every look and gesture, and it did not escape me that Laura, while kneeling, cast a look of supplication towards heaven, and sighed deeply. She soon became conscious of my presence; and rising, she took a chair, and fixed upon me a look so deeply penetrative, so fraught with tender meaning, and yet so timidly, so truly modest, that every chord of feeling in my frame was thrilled with sudden transport. To uninterested observers her deportment was tranquil, but ere long I could discern tokens of deep and anxious thought clouding her lovely face. Her lips quivered as if in sympathy with some inward feeling of doubt and apprehension, which at length subsided, and her angelic features were suddenly irradiated with a tender and enchanting smile. She then read for some time in her book, and marked a place in it with a card, to which, by an expressive glance, she directed my attention. The mass was concluded, the congregation quitted the church, and I availed myself of the crowded portal to approach and take the card, which she conveyed to me unperceived. I hastened from the spot, and seized the first opportunity to read these words—‘Two hours after midnight, at the postern near the canal.’ The card said no more; but, to a lover, it spoke volumes.

“These magic words, and the enchantress who had penned them, absorbed every thought and feeling throughout the never-ending day. In the evening, I passed and repassed the Foscari palace, until the shape and position of every door and window were engraven on my memory. I provided myself with weapons, ordered my gondolier to hold himself in readiness, and at midnight I proceeded to the Piazza near Maria Formosa. Enveloped in my mantle, I traversed the pavement with feverish impetuosity for two hours, which appeared like ages. The course of nature seemed to stagnate, and the constellations to pause in their career, as if in mockery of my feelings. I walked with increased rapidity, and even vaulted into the air with childish eagerness as if to grasp the heavenly bodies, and accelerate their lingering progress. At length the last quarter struck. I hastened through the silent and deserted streets, and strode over the bridges with a bound as vehement as if I would have spurned them from under me. I soon arrived at the appointed postern, and waited, all eye and ear, in a contiguous angle of the wall. Ere long the door was gently opened, and I heard the music of an angel’s voice, bidding me enter with noiseless steps, and beware of rousing her brothers, whose violence would endanger my life. In obedient silence I followed her up a dark staircase into a saloon adjoining the grand canal, and dimly lighted by a single lamp. The enchanting Laura was attired in a white robe of elegant simplicity, well fitted to display the perfect symmetry and luxuriant fulness of her incomparable shape. Her head was uncovered, and her waving tresses floated in rich profusion over her shoulders and bosom. Thus unadorned, her beauty was so dazzling and celestial, that I could have knelt and worshipped her as the Aphrodite of the Adriatic Paphos. I gazed upon her until I became giddy with admiration and rapture. Yielding to an irresistible impulse, I lost all discretion—folded the lovely creature in my embrace—and impressed a fervent kiss upon her coral lips.

“‘Unhand me, daring youth!’ she exclaimed, her fine features flashing with indignant eloquence as she repulsed me. ‘Remember that I am Foscari’s daughter, and do me the justice to believe, that I have not unadvisedly received you at an hour so unseemly. I was impelled to this step not only by the regard due to your personal safety, but by my implicit confidence in the honour of a cavalier. Think not, rash youth! that a Foscari would condescend, like Bianca Capello, to an obscure stranger. I know that you are not what you would seem. I know that ‘Colonna the painter’ is but the outward shell which hides the pearl and pride of the Florentine nobility. I have a friend in Venice who is in confidential intercourse by letter with your aunt Veronica, and from her I heard in secresy that the study of painting was not your primary object in Venice, but assumed only to mask some more important purpose.’

“Mortified by the indiscretion of my aunt, and sensible of the fatal consequences it might involve, I soon recovered some degree of self-control, and apologised to the still offended Laura for the inconsiderate freedom in which I had indulged. I then disclosed to her some particulars of my previous history, and expressed, in ardent and grateful terms my sense of the flattering distinction conferred upon me by the loveliest woman in Venice.

“‘Ah, Montalto!’ she replied, with glowing cheeks, and a look of enchanting tenderness, ‘you know not the dreadful risk to which my wish to become better acquainted with your merits exposes me. I am watched with jealous and unceasing vigilance by an ambitious father, whose sole object is the aggrandisement of his sons; and to the accomplishment of this purpose he will not hesitate to sacrifice an only and affectionate daughter. Destined to become the unwilling bride of heartless opulence, or to the living sepulture of a convent, and formed, by an affectionate mother, for every social and domestic relation, there have been moments when I wished it had pleased Heaven to cast my lot in free and humble mediocrity. My affections were then unappropriated——’

“She paused in blushing and beautiful embarrassment, but soon resumed:—‘It would be affectation to deny that they are no longer so. I must have been more than woman to have remarked, without some responsive feeling, the obvious regard——’ Here she paused anew, the rose of sweet confusion dyed her cheek more deeply than before, and after a momentary struggle, she continued, with averted looks: ‘The heroic cast and expression of your features, and the unembarrassed ease and elegance of your deportment, bore the genuine stamp of nobility by descent and education. The instinctive discrimination peculiar to woman is often more accurate in its conclusions than the boasted experience of man. Appearances taught me to suspect, that your homely garb and professional pursuit were a delusion; and I heard with more pleasure than surprise that my conjecture was well-founded.’

“Such, my Angelo! was the ingenuous and flattering avowal of the transcendent Laura Foscari, the pride of Venice, and paragon of her sex. No words can portray the boundless gratitude and affection with which she inspired me; nor will I attempt to describe the enchanting grace and varied intelligence of her conversation during the brief and delightful hour I remained with her. Too soon the breezes which announce the dawn shook the windows of the saloon; a luminous streak bordered the eastern sky; and Laura, starting suddenly from her chair, bade me begone.

“Thus terminated my first interview with this high-minded and incomparable woman. To-morrow, should no obstacle intervene, I will resume my narrative, and, at the same time, impart to you some particulars of my family and early life.”

We then returned to the villa, and separated for the night.

CHAPTER III.

If the opening of Colonna’s confession had excited surprise and emotion, the incidents detailed in his interesting narrative were a fertile source of anxiety and dismay. The veil of mystery was indeed raised, but the scene disclosed was haunted by menacing appearances; and I looked forward to the future with indescribable solicitude. The vehemence of Colonna’s passions was alarming, and his impetuosity would too probably betray him into formidable peril. After mature consideration, however, I determined to rest my hopes of a happy termination to these difficulties upon his clear intellect, and his noble and generous heart. I mentally renewed my vow of everlasting friendship, and pledged myself to assist and defend him to the uttermost, under all circumstances of difficulty and peril.

On the following day we were surprised by an unwelcome visit from the brothers and destined husband of Laura. She had previously accompanied her mother more than once in a morning visit to our villa; but I had never surmised sympathy, nor even acquaintance, between her and Colonna, so skilfully did they preserve appearances. When he spoke of her, it was invariably in the language of an artist. He admired the rare and absolute symmetry of her face and form, in which she surpassed every woman he had seen. He even remarked, with well-assumed professional enthusiasm, how much it was to be regretted that her rank and education precluded the possibility of her benefiting the arts as a model. He deemed the proportions of her figure as admirable as those of the Grecian Venus at Florence; and her head, arms, and hands as greatly superior. On farther retrospection, I recollected to have observed a richer glow on the cheek of Laura, whenever the lute of Colonna vibrated from the villa-gardens; or, when his thrilling and seductive voice sang some tender aria to the guitar.

The younger Foscari was fascinated by the appearance and conversation of Colonna, and expressed a wish to see his paintings. The party proceeded to his saloon, and readily acknowledged his fine taste, and evident promise of high excellence. Barozzo alone, a man of large stature, of haughty deportment, and of a repulsive and sinister aspect, assumed the critic; and betrayed, by his uncouth remarks, an utter ignorance of fine art. Colonna, however, with admirable self-possession, preserved the unassuming deportment of a young artist, ambitious of patronage; spoke of the extreme difficulty of attaining excellence in his profession, and gravely complimented Barozzo upon the accuracy of his judgment. The haughty senator was gratified and won by an admission so flattering to his pride; and condescended to request that Colonna would paint the portraits of his bride and himself. The young painter bit his lip as he bowed his acknowledgments; but expressed his high sense of the honour conferred, and his conviction that the portraits, if successful, would powerfully recommend him to the nobles of Venice, and prove a certain avenue to fame and fortune. It was agreed that, on an early day, Colonna should proceed with the requisite materials to the villa Foscari, and commence the portrait of Laura; after which, the cavaliers mounted their horses, and returned home.

To prevent a similar interruption on the succeeding day from any other quarter, I agreed with Colonna to rise with the sun, and proceed over the lake into the mountains, with provisions for the day. We met at early dawn; and the birds were caroling their morning hymn, as, with expanded sail, our bark bounded lightly across the lake. Ere long we saw the god of day peeping with golden brow above the ridge of Monte Baldo; then, majestically advancing over the mountains near Verona, he poured a flood of bright and glowing beauty over the immense landscape. The water was partially concealed by the vapours of morning, and mists of purple hue floated like regal canopies above the cliffs, while a light breeze, rippling the centre of the lake, dispersed its tranquil slumber, and roused it into life and beauty. The peninsula of Sirmio lay basking in sunny radiance before us; and the mountains beyond displayed the grandeur of their immeasurable outline, varied by prominent and rugged masses, which were piled up in chaos like Ossa on Pelion. The eastern sky was robed in vapours of rosy tint; light clouds of pearly lustre floated in tranquil beauty through the heavens; and the Alpine eagles were careering in joyous and sweeping circles amid the pure ether.

Certainly the lake of Garda displays a rare combination of the beautiful and sublime. The shores abound in the wild and majestic, in variety and beauty of local tints, and picturesque vicissitudes of light and shade; while the olive-crowned Sirmio, like the island-realm of a Calypso, reposes in regal pride upon the waters, and seems to hold in vassalage the opposite shores and amphitheatre of mountains.

There have been some days in my existence which will ever be dear to my memory, and this was one of them. It was a cool and delicious morning in the beginning of October; my senses were refreshed with sleep; I was awake to the calm and holy influences of nature; and I anticipated the promised narrative of Colonna’s early life with a lively interest, which imparted new zest to every feeling, and new beauty to the glowing landscape. It was still early when we landed under the cliff, and availed ourselves of the dewy freshness of the morning to ascend a rugged path, which conducted us to a sequestered grove of beech and chestnut. From a crevice in the base of a rock, feathered with flowering creepers, issued a limpid spring, which, after dispensing coolness and verdure to the grove, rolled onward with mild and soothing murmurs to the lower levels. Plunging our wine-flasks into the pure element where it burst into life from the parent rock, we extended ourselves on the soft grass, and dismissed our boatmen, with orders to return at sunset. I then reminded Colonna of his promise to reveal to me some particulars of his early fortunes; and after a pause, during which his features were slightly convulsed, as if by painful recollections, he thus began:

“I am the sole survivor of one of the most illustrious families in Florence. My father was Leone di Montalto; and my mother was of the persecuted and noble race of the Albizi. They are both deceased; and I remain a solitary mourner, their first and only child. My mother died the day after my birth, and my father grieved for her long and sincerely; but the lapse of years, and frequent absences from Florence in the naval service of the state, healed his wounded spirit; and in an evil hour he became deeply enamoured of Isabella, third daughter of Cosmo de’ Medici, the tyrant of unhappy Florence. She was the wife of Paul Orsini, the Roman, who, without any formal repudiation, had abandoned her, and resided entirely in Rome. This extraordinary woman was distinguished throughout Italy for personal beauty and rare intellectual accomplishment. Her conversation not only sparkled with wit, grace, and vivacity, but was full of knowledge and originality; and her great natural powers had been so highly cultivated, that she conversed with fluency in French, Spanish, and even in Latin. She performed with skill on various instruments—sang like a Siren, and was an admirable improvisatrice. Thus highly gifted and adorned by nature and education, she was the idol of Cosmo, and ruled his court like a presiding goddess. Her time and her affections being unoccupied, she did not discourage the attentions of my father, who was one of the most elegant and accomplished men of his time, and blended the grace of a courtier with the free and gallant bearing of a distinguished commander. The dormant sensibilities of Isabella were soon awakened by the enthusiastic fervour of his attachment; and their secret intelligence had subsisted some time, when it was discovered by the jealous and vindictive Cosmo. My unfortunate parent was immediately arrested and imprisoned, but effected his escape, fled to Venice, and from thence to the Levant. His estates were confiscated under the pretext of treasonable practices; and I found a refuge and a home under the roof of my widowed aunt, Veronica Della Torre.

“The heartless and meretricious Isabella relinquished my father without a sigh, or a struggle to save him, and consoled herself with court-pageantry, and a succession of new lovers, many of whom were sacrificed by her cunning and ruthless father. As a selfish voluptuary, and the destroyer of his country’s liberty, Cosmo has been compared with Augustus; but in gratuitous and deliberate cruelty, he far surpasses his prototype.

“I was indebted to neglect and accident for the best of all educations. My father loved and cherished me; but his domestic calamity, his frequent absences from Florence, and, subsequently, his pursuit of Isabella, interfered with the customary course of education, and saved me from the despotism of a regular tutor, and from the debasing tyranny, the selfish and vulgar profligacy, of those institutions of monkery called public academies.

“It was surely the intention of Providence that the faculties of early life should not be strained by labours hostile to the healthful growth of mind and body, and that the heart, the senses, and the principles should alone be tutored in the first ten years of life. And yet how egregiously has the folly of the creature perverted the benevolent purpose of the Creator! With thoughtless, heartless indifference he commits his tender offspring to the crushing tyranny of pedants and task-masters, who rack and stupify the imperfect brain by vain attempts to convey dead languages through a dead medium, and inflict upon their helpless pupils the occult mysteries of grammar, which is the philosophy of language, and intelligible only to ripened faculties. Ask the youth who has toiled in prostration of spirit through the joyless years of school existence in the preparatory seminaries of Italy—bid him look back upon his tedious pilgrimage, and weigh the scanty knowledge he has won against the abundant miseries he has endured from the harsh discipline of monkish tutors, and the selfish brutality of senior class-fellows! His pride may prompt him to deny, but in honesty and fairness he must admit, that the established system of education is radically vicious; that his attainments are meagre and superficial; that his knowledge of the world is selfishness and cunning; and that, to rise above the herd of slaves and dunces, he must give himself a second and widely different education; more liberal, comprehensive, and practical.

“It was my happier fate to enjoy, until the age of ten, unbounded liberty. I associated with boys of my own age, selecting for frequent intercourse those most distinguished by strength of body, resource of mind, and a lofty and determined spirit. I disdained to be outdone in feats of bodily activity, and persevered with inflexible ardour until I surpassed all my competitors in running, wrestling, and swimming, and in every species of juvenile and daring exploit.

“From my aunt, who was an accomplished and high-minded woman, I learned to read and write, and gained with ease and pleasure a more than elementary knowledge of history; and when I had attained the age of twelve, my father, who was an able and distinguished commander, took me for three years on board his galley, in frequent cruises against the Corsairs. These voyages had a powerful and salutary influence upon my habits and character; the daily contemplation of the world of waters expanded and exalted my imagination; while the enlightened converse and daily instructions of my noble father, the regular discipline observed on board the galley, and occasional exposure to danger in tempests or in contact with an enemy, induced energy and concentration of thought, decision and promptitude in action, contempt of fatigue and hardship, and a degree of self-possession which no common dangers could either daunt or disconcert.

“At the age of fifteen I returned to Florence, abandoned all boyish pursuits, and commenced a more regular and elaborate course of education. I had accumulated a store of ideas and associations which enabled me to apply my faculties with facility to every desirable attainment. The transition from material objects to the world of spirits is natural and easy. I had already investigated with deep interest the histories of Greece and Rome; I now studied with ardour and success the languages of those high-minded nations; and, ere long, perused with insatiable delight the pages of those master-spirits whose glorious names blaze like constellations through the dark night of antiquity.

“My early and ruling passion for the liberal arts, and especially for painting and architecture, induced me to seek the instructions of Giorgio Vasari. As an artist he had never produced an original design, but he was an able teacher; and, notwithstanding his prejudices, he was unquestionably a man of refined taste and extensive knowledge. The garrulous old painter was delighted with the glow of my enthusiasm, and failed not to fan the flame with abundant encouragement.

“My indulgent father was induced, by the exuberant praises of Vasari, to permit my devotion of some hours daily to his instructions; but the year before his imprisonment and flight, he took the precaution to introduce me to a literary circle, eminent for clearness of intellect, and a sound and liberal philosophy. Intercourse with men of this class modified, in a considerable degree, my habits and opinions; but it could not for a moment weaken my devotion to that sublime art which has ennobled modern Italy, and raised it from prostration and contempt to moral dignity and grandeur.

“Several years elapsed after my father’s escape, without bringing us any intelligence of his fate. This mysterious silence was a source of intense anxiety. Florence was hateful to me, and my impatience to rejoin my beloved parent became at length too vehement to be controlled any longer by the remonstrances of my aunt. I keenly felt all the injustice exercised by the tyrannous and reckless Cosmo against my family, and my departure was accelerated by the intimation from a friend at court that my proceedings were watched by the secret agents of the usurper, and that any unguarded expression of political discontent, would be the signal of my incarceration, and, too probably, of banishment or death. I quitted Florence unobserved, changed my name, and proceeded to Venice, intending, while I pursued my inquiries after my father, to study the works of Titian, and to avail myself of the instructions of Tintorett and Paul Veronese. The latter honoured me with his friendship, and the venerable Titian encouraged me to visit him. I succeeded in my endeavours to cheer, with poetry and music, the declining spirits of the benevolent old man. He became attached to me, and finding that I had a painter’s eye, he imparted to me some invaluable secrets of his art, a compliment the more gratifying and important, because it opened to me a source of honourable and independent provision, in case my paternal estate should never be restored to me.

“Last autumn I received intelligence from Florence that my father had entered the service of your republic on his arrival in the Levant, and had received the appointment of captain in the garrison of Candia, under General Malatesta, a Florentine, whose son had been assassinated by order of Cosmo, on the discovery of an intrigue between this youth and his eldest daughter, Maria de’ Medici. Nor did the hapless female escape the vengeance of her cruel parent. Her death was premature, and attended with circumstances which amounted to the clearest evidence that she was poisoned by her monstrous and unnatural parent. I had completed my preparations for departure, and waited only a change of wind to sail for Candia, when I received from my aunt the heart-rending communication that my father had shared the fate of young Malatesta, and been assassinated some years since, at the instigation of the ferocious Cosmo. This intelligence fell upon my soul like a thunderbolt. The wound which my beloved father’s disappearance had inflicted on my happiness opened anew, and my lacerated heart bled at every core. I vowed implacable hatred and deadly vengeance against the prime mover and every subordinate agent in this atrocious murder of my noble parent. He was a great and admirable man, and I shall never cease to venerate his memory, and lament his untimely death. For many months, life was an intolerable burden to me, and I endured existence only in the hope of avenging him. The cruel instigator, Cosmo, was, alas! equally beyond the reach of my personal defiance and of my dagger. Hedged round by guards and minions, and compelled by his infirmities to seclude himself within the recesses of his palace, every attempt to approach him would have been vain, and my youthful and unenjoyed existence would have been sacrificed without an equivalent. Nor have I yet been able to trace the agents of his bloody will; but my investigations have been vigilant and unceasing, and revenge, although delayed, is ripening over their heads.”

Here the noble youth was checked in his narrative by a sudden burst of agony, which defied all disguise and control. Tears rolled in rapid succession down his cheeks, and his manly chest heaved with the audible sobs of bitter and deeply-seated anguish. Springing hastily from the turf, he threw himself on the margin of the stream, and immersed his face in its pure waters, to cool the fever of his burning cheeks. Surely there is no sorrow like the sorrow of a resolute and high-minded man. The sobs of woman in affliction awake our tenderest sympathies, but they do not shake our souls like the audible anguish of man. To see the iron frame of such a being as Colonna heaving with loud and convulsive agony, was so truly appalling, that no time will erase the deep impression from my memory.

I respected his grief too much to interrupt it by premature attempts at consolation; but when he arose, I embraced him in silent sympathy, and endeavoured to direct the current of his thoughts from the bitter past to a brighter future. I spoke of the advanced age and broken constitution of the licentious Cosmo, and inferred, from the mild and amiable character of his son, a speedy restoration to rank and property. I dwelt upon his own pre-eminence in strength of mind, and in every natural and acquired advantage; and I predicted that, in defiance of adverse circumstances, he would, by his own unassisted efforts, accomplish a high and brilliant destiny. I proposed to obtain for him, through my father’s influence, a naval command in the service of Venice, or a powerful recommendation to the valiant Genoese, Giovanni Doria.

He thanked me, with a look full of eloquent meaning, but made no comment on my proposal. After a brief pause, he subdued his emotion, and exclaimed, with a melancholy smile,—“Happy Venetians and Genoese! Your liberties have not been basely destroyed by an individual family, as those of Tuscany by the Medici. Your glorious republics adorn the east and west of Italy with splendid achievements, while Florence, once the pride and glory of our country, lies prostrate in mourning and in slavery, betrayed and manacled by her unnatural sons!”

I availed myself of this apostrophe to make some comments upon the history of these distinguished republics, and insensibly drew Colonna into a discussion which was prolonged until the increasing heat made us sensible of the want of refreshment. The sun had reached the meridian, and the centre of the lake below, still fretted by the mountain breeze, was seething and glittering in the sunbeams, like a huge cauldron of melted silver, while the smooth and crystal surface near its shores reflected, like a mirror, projecting and receding cliffs of every form and elevation, crowned with venerable trees, and fringed with gay varieties of vegetable ornament. The timid and transparent lizards darted playfully around us, and golden beetles buzzed on heavy wings in the foliage above, while the light grasshoppers chirped their multitudinous chorus of delight, and myriads of gay and glittering insects held their jubilee in the burning atmosphere. Amidst this universal carnival of nature, we reclined in deep shade, soothed by the tinkling music of the stream, and enjoying the dewy freshness which exhaled from its translucent waters. The inspiring juice of the Cyprus grape, and a light repast, rapidly recruited the strength and spirits of Colonna. Bounding vigorously from the green turf, he gazed with delight through the aged stems upon the bright landscape, and exclaimed, with glowing enthusiasm,—“All-bounteous Providence! Creator of the glorious sun and teeming earth! how supremely blest were thy creatures, did they not embitter so much good by crime and folly!”

After a brief pause of rapturous contemplation, we resumed our wine-flasks, our cheerfulness rose into exhilaration, and we reposed like sylvan deities in the green shade, enjoying the elasticity and freshness of youthful existence, forgetful of the past and regardless of the future. But this daydream was too delightful to last. I recollected that I had not heard the sequel of Colonna’s adventures in Venice, and I broke the spell by whispering in his ear the name of “Laura.”

“Alas!” he replied, with visible emotion, “I fear this incomparable woman will never be mine, unless miracle or magic should interpose to vanquish the many obstacles to our union. Our interviews in Venice were attended with such imminent hazard of discovery, as to render them brief and of rare occurrence. My adored Laura was in the morning of life, and with the creative imagination of early youth, she cherished sanguine hopes that the death of the infirm Cosmo would, ere long, enable me to resume rank and property, and to demand her openly of her father. Until then, my resources were merely adequate to my personal support, being limited to a small maternal estate, left under the friendly guardianship of my aunt.

“Nevertheless, plans of elopement were frequently discussed, and I vehemently urged her to become mine, and to accompany me to Greece, from whence, after I had accomplished a momentous object, we could embark for Marseilles, and proceed to Paris, where my skill as a painter, in addition to my maternal estate, would preserve us from indigence. As she did not peremptorily forbid me to expect her consent to this scheme, I ventured to build upon it; but when my preparations for flight were completed, her resolution failed, and I discovered, in the deeply-rooted attachment of Laura to her mother, an insuperable obstacle to the accomplishment of my purpose. For this kind and indulgent parent her affection was all but idolatrous; and when she told me, with tearful eyes and throbbing bosom, that her beloved mother was in precarious health, that she was entirely dependent on her only daughter for earthly happiness, and that the loss of that daughter would destroy her, I must have been dead to every generous and disinterested feeling had I not complied with her earnest entreaty, that we should await a more favourable course of events.

“Meanwhile the distinguished beauty and numberless graces of Laura attracted many suitors. Some of these were not ineligible, and one of them especially, young Contarini—whose passion for her was ardent, almost to frenzy—was a man of noble qualities, of prepossessing exterior, and of equal rank, but, as you well know, too moderately endowed with the gifts of fortune. Every proposal was, however, promptly rejected by the ambitious Foscari, who, like a cold and calculating trader, measured the merits of each suitor by the extent of his possessions. At length, after the conclusion of the war with Turkey in the spring, arrived from Greece the governor of Candia, Ercole Barozzo, whose splendid establishment and lavish expenditure attracted universal attention. His originally large possessions had been swelled into princely opulence by clandestine traffic with the enemy, and by every species of cruelty and exaction. His wife and two infant sons had fallen victims to the plague in the Levant; and being desirous of children to inherit his vast possessions, he surveyed the fair daughters of Venice, and was quickly fascinated by the superlative beauty of Laura Foscari, who shone unrivalled in a city distinguished for the beauty of the softer sex. Barozzo was not a suitor to be rejected by her sordid father; and, without any appeal to his daughter’s inclinations, her hand was promised to a man of more than twice her age, forbidding in his exterior, coarse and revolting in his manners, and utterly destitute of redeeming qualities. I had determined, before my acquaintance with you commenced, to make occasional visits during the summer to Peschiera, and I hesitated to accept your proposal, from an apprehension that it would impede my interviews with Laura. On farther consideration, however, I perceived that my abode under your roof would not be incompatible with nocturnal visits to the Villa Foscari, and I became your guest. My interviews with Laura have been more frequent in this quiet and rural district, than in the narrow streets and numerous obstacles of Venice. The wide extent of her father’s garden enables me to scale the wall unperceived, and to reach a garden saloon communicating by a covered trellice walk with the villa. Laura’s abhorrence of the presuming and insolent Barozzo has proved a powerful auxiliary to my renewed entreaties that she would fly with me from the miseries which menace her, and I have recently succeeded in obtaining her reluctant consent to accompany me to Genoa, and from thence to Greece. A fortnight hence is appointed for the celebration of her marriage to the wretch who basely wooes her, with a consciousness of her unqualified antipathy to his person and character. If the strong attachment of Laura to her mother does not again baffle my hopes, we shall effect our escape three days before the one appointed for her marriage with Barozzo; but I can discern too well, through her invincible dejection, that she is still balancing the dreadful alternatives of a marriage abhorrent to her feelings, and the abandonment of her mother.”

Such was the tale of Colonna’s brief, but trying and calamitous career. Deeply as I lamented his approaching departure, I felt too much interested in his success to withhold my active co-operation, and I pledged myself to promote his views as far as I could, without openly compromising myself with the Foscari family; but I entreated him to relinquish his design of painting the portraits of Laura and Barozzo, from an apprehension that a lover so fervent and demonstrative would, in some unguarded moment, excite suspicion, and frustrate the accomplishment of his ultimate views. He thanked me for the ready zeal with which I had entered into his feelings, and assured me that he had no intention of proceeding beyond the outlines of the governor’s portrait; but that, as a lover and an artist, he could not deny himself the gratification of portraying the matchless form and features of the woman he adored.

The day was declining when we quitted our cool retreat to ascend the mountain behind us, and inhale the pure breezes which played around its summit. We gazed with long and lingering delight upon the bright landscapes of Lombardy, as they glowed beneath us in the parting sunbeams, and the shades of night were fast falling around us when we crossed the lake on our return to the villa.

CHAPTER IV.

Early on the following morning, the younger brother of Laura called to request the promised attendance of Colonna at the Villa Foscari, and I determined to accompany him, hoping, by my presence, to remind the young painter of the necessity of exercising a vigilant control over his feelings. The precaution was, however, unnecessary. He sustained, with singular self-mastery, the demeanour of an artist and a stranger; and appeared, while sketching the form and features of his lovely mistress, to have no other object than to seize the most important and characteristic peculiarities of his model. He requested that she would occasionally walk round the saloon, and freely indulge in familiar converse with her friends, as if no artist were present. His object was, he added, to accomplish, not a tame and lifeless copy, but a portrait, stamped with those peculiar attributes and graces which are best elicited by a free and unconstrained movement of limb and feature.

Thus admirably did he mask the lover, and assume the look and language of an artist ambitious to recommend himself to opulent employers.

The sensitive and unhappy Laura had less command over her feelings, and I could occasionally observe a furtive glance beaming from her dark and humid eye upon the elegant painter; but when she addressed him, it was with the air and language of condescension to one whose services might be purchased; thus endeavouring to disguise the strong and almost irrepressible emotion which quivered beneath the surface.

Her mother never quitted her during the sitting; Barozzo and the Foscari visited the saloon occasionally; and I remained to control the lover, and, at the same time, to improve myself by observing the artist. The fine lineaments of Laura were too deeply engraven on the heart of Colonna to render frequent sittings essential; and, in compliance with my remonstrances, he abridged them as much as possible. After the second sitting he told her that he should not again require her presence until he had completed the portrait, when some finishing detail might be requisite. He devoted a large portion of the five following days to a task so soothing to his feelings; and, on the morning of the sixth day, astonished the assembled family by producing a highly-finished and admirable resemblance.

The charming subject of his portrait was painted the size of life, and attired in a light morning robe of green silk. The full and elegant symmetry of her form was indicated through the graceful folds, which fell around her like the richest sculpture. She stood in a contemplative attitude, leaning, like some heavenly muse, upon a golden tripod of chaste and classical design. High intelligence adorned with its imperishable beauty her fair and lofty forehead. Her large dark eyes, which beamed through their long fringes with soft and melting lustre, were gazing as if into futurity, and their tender and eloquent expression went to the soul of the observer. The finely moulded oval of her cheek glowed with the roseate hues of life, and the pearly lustre of the neck and arms was surpassed only by the clear and brilliant fairness of the lovely original, while in the beautifully curved lips, Colonna had introduced a slight compression, indicative of that heroic firmness in the character of Laura, which had not escaped his penetration, but did not, until a later period, fully develop itself.

The scene was a garden saloon, and through an open window an extensive view over the lake of Garda arrested with magic power the eye of every beholder. Sirmio appeared like a woody island in the middle distance, and beyond the lake rose an amphitheatre of mountains, surmounted by the distant summits of the Tyrolese Alps. There was in this admirable portrait all the charm and witchery of life. It possessed much of the dignity, and ease, and harmonious colouring of Titian; and the exquisite blending and management of the tints betrayed the favourite pupil of Paul Veronese, whom indeed he surpassed in the natural folding and classical distribution of draperies, and fully equalled in the force of light and shade, which makes the portraits of that able master appear to stand out from the canvass.

The next day was devoted to the finishing of some details in the portrait of Laura; and on the succeeding morning I accompanied Colonna to the apartment of Barozzo, who was desirous that his portrait should be completed before his marriage. The artist fixed upon the haughty governor that firm gaze of his dark and piercing eye, and proceeded to pencil the outlines of his stern and massive features. After the lapse of a few minutes, he remarked to Barozzo, that he had never seen a countenance, the character of which he found so difficult to trace to its primitive elements. “The lineaments of mature age,” he continued, “are hard and inflexible, and when the eloquent play and pliancy of youthful feelings have left the features, it is impossible, without frequent intercourse, to detect the peculiarities and secret recesses of character with sufficient accuracy to give force and truth to a portrait.” He conceived that to accomplish the perfect delineation of a man of middle age and of distinguished rank, a painter should not only share his society, but know the history of his life, and study the lights and shades of his character. It was thus that Raffaelle succeeded in conveying to the portraits of Julius II., Leo X., and their Cardinals, such intellectual dignity, such truth and grandeur of expression. He doubted, nevertheless, whether any artist could achieve a perfect portrait of a man of high station if he did not rise above his employer, not only in imaginative power, but in strength of mind and penetration into character.

The riveted and searching looks, which from time to time accompanied this singular and equivocal strain of compliment, appeared greatly to perplex and annoy the haughty Barozzo. His tawny visage was dyed with the dusky red of some strong inward emotion, which I was eager but unable to interpret. This suffusion was soon succeeded by an ashy paleness, and suddenly he quitted his chair and walked to the window.

During this ominous and unaccountable interruption, I gave Colonna a warning glance. He composed his excited features into tranquillity; and after a long pause, of which I endeavoured to disguise the embarrassment by some comments on the Venetian school of painting, Barozzo returned from the window and resumed his seat. Colonna seized his pencil, and proceeded to sketch the outline of the governor’s figure, during which process I observed in his looks nothing beyond the earnest gaze of a portrait-painter. For some time Barozzo avoided the encounter; but at length, as if controlled by some secret and irresistible fascination, his eyes again met those of the young artist. The effect of this collision was mysterious and startling. The brilliant orbs of Colonna gradually assumed a stern and indignant expression, and darted their searching beams upon the governor, as if to pierce the inmost recesses of his soul. The dull grey eyes of the again agitated Barozzo quailed and fell under this intolerable scrutiny; his sallow visage was suffused with a ghastly yellow; again he glanced in terror at the artist, and then half rose from his chair in undisguised consternation. Controlling, however, with sudden effort his agitation, he resumed his seat, and, with averted looks and seeming indifference, inquired if Colonna had resided long in Venice. The painter filled his brush, and answered carelessly, that he had lived there a few months.

“Your accent is Tuscan,” continued Barozzo. “Are you a native of Florence?”

“I am,” replied the painter, seemingly intent upon his employment.

“Do your parents reside there?” resumed the other, with rising emphasis.

“Parents!” exclaimed Colonna, with a keen glance at the inquisitive governor; “I have none! They are dead!”

“Who and what was your father?” demanded Barozzo imperiously.

This inquiry and its peremptory tone exhausted the patience of Colonna. Dashing the paint out of his brush, he fixed a look of startling fierceness on Barozzo, and answered, with marked and bitter emphasis,—“He was a sword-cutler, and made excellent blades.”

At this critical moment Laura entered the room with her mother to observe the progress of Barozzo’s portrait. Casting a hasty glance at the imperfect sketch, she remarked that it did not at all realise her expectations. The painter replied, that he should have succeeded better if he had enjoyed the honour of a longer acquaintance with the governor. “It is immaterial,” exclaimed Barozzo, who had fully regained his self-possession. “We shall ere long become better known to each other, and you may finish my portrait at Venice in the course of the ensuing winter.”

“As your excellency pleases,” replied Colonna, and removed the canvass from the easel. The ladies now quitted the saloon with the governor; and, soon as the door was closed, the artist defaced the ill-fated portrait with a blow of his fist, packed up his drawing materials for removal, and accompanied me home.

Conceiving that the portentous agitation of Barozzo had grown out of some incipient feelings of jealousy and suspicion, I remonstrated with Colonna, during our walk, on the gratuitous imprudence of his deportment, and pointed out the personal danger he had incurred by thus taunting a man so powerful and irritable as the governor of Candia. I urged him to accelerate his flight, and, meanwhile, never to leave the villa unarmed.

In reply, however, he expressed his conviction that the sudden change of countenance and colour in Barozzo did not originate in jealousy, and that a man so imperious and overbearing would have betrayed this spirit-stirring passion in a manner widely different. “No, Pisani!” he continued, in a voice quivering with emotion; “my suspicions go farther. The springs of this man’s actions lie deep, and a prophetic spirit tells me that he is not innocent of my noble father’s murder. Until this morning, he deigned not to bestow more than a superficial glance upon the features of an obscure artist in homely apparel, but when our eyes met, in keen and unavoidable collision, the resemblance I bear to my deceased parent flashed upon his guilty soul; and from his sudden and uncontrollable emotion, I cannot but infer his participation in the crimes of Cosmo. Inference, you will say, is no proof; but it gives me a clue which I will track until I reach conviction. It is the intention of Laura, who cannot resolve to quit her mother, to retard for a considerable period the celebration of her marriage, by feigned paroxysms of indisposition. I will avail myself of this delay to bring home to Barozzo the evidence of his guilt, and defy him to mortal combat; or, should he shrink from it, I will treat him as a savage and noxious animal, and hunt him to death.”

I could not but admit that there was some ground for the suspicions of Colonna; but, from an apprehension of rousing his whirlwind passions into premature activity, I concealed from him my knowledge that, before the departure of Barozzo for Candia, he had passed some weeks at Florence, where his congenial disposition had powerfully recommended him to the good graces of Cosmo. They were in habits of daily intercourse, and Barozzo was not the man who would, from honourable feeling, decline to forward the murderous views of the implacable ruler of Tuscany.

From this eventful day Colonna was an altered man. Revenge became the ruling passion of his soul; and while he awaited with gnawing impatience the long-expected letters from his friends in Florence and Candia, he seemed to find no relief from the feverish rage which fired his blood, and wasted his fine form, but in the bodily fatigue of daily and nightly rambles in the mountains.

It was the design of Laura to assume the appearance of sudden and violent illness on the day before her intended marriage, and to sustain the deception, by occasional relapses, for months, or even years, should the governor’s patience endure so long. But the probability was, that a man, advancing towards the autumn of life, and determined to marry, would rather recede from his engagement and seek another mate, than run the risk of such indefinite delay. The spirit and address of Laura Foscari were fully equal to the deep game she had determined to play. She purposed to assist the deception by staining her fair face with an artificial and sickly hue; and she found an effective auxiliary in her mother, who thought the brutal Barozzo utterly unworthy to win and wear so bright a jewel as her angelic daughter. These expedients were, however, rendered unnecessary by the bloody catastrophes which were now at hand.

Three days before the appointed celebration of the marriage, I was reading, near midnight, in my chamber, when Colonna entered, with vehement and hasty strides. His large eyes glittered with terrific energy; his forehead streamed with perspiration; his dress and hair were in wild disorder, and his hands were dyed with blood. He said not a word, but paced the apartment for some time with rapidity. His deportment was that of a man whose rage had risen above his control, and overwhelmed all power of articulation. I awaited in silent and wondering sympathy the termination of emotions so tempestuous. At length, seating himself opposite to me, he struck the table vehemently with his clenched hand, and after some vain attempts to speak, exclaimed, in hoarse and hurried tones, which gave an appalling force to his expressions—“Pisani! all doubt is at an end—I have this night obtained conclusive evidence of Barozzo’s guilt. I have sworn to avenge my noble father’s wrongs in the traitor’s blood—and to-morrow he must face me in fair combat, or feel my dagger in his craven heart. The alternative will hinge upon your friendly agency—but of that hereafter.—About three hours since I reached the heights beyond the lake. Exhausted with a long and toilsome ramble, I threw myself beneath our favourite beech, and was soon lulled by the rippling waters into brief and agitated slumber. My sleep was haunted by a succession of fearful forms and painful incidents, which at length assumed a shape distinctly and horribly significant. Methought I lay upon the summit of a cliff, close to the sloping brink, and gazed into a gulf too deep and dark for human eye to fathom. Suddenly the immense void was illumined by sheets of vivid lightning—a monstrous peal of thunder broke upon my ear—and a colossal form, lengthened and scaly as a serpent, rose like the demon of the storm, approached the edge of the precipice, and brought his horrid visage to the level of mine. Again the lightning flashed, and I distinguished the assassin features of Barozzo, expanded into horrible and revolting magnitude. Eyes, lurid and menacing as meteors, glared upon me with a malignant scowl, and huge lips, parted in a fiendish grin, disclosed an array of fangs, pointed and glittering as poniards. He extended two gaunt and bony hands, stained, methought, with my father’s blood, and tried to seize and drag me into the gulf. While writhing to escape the monster’s grasp the thunder again rolled through the abyss; the cliff beneath me reeled from its foundations, the brink began to crumble, and my destruction appeared inevitable—when, suddenly, the strains of sweet and solemn music floated round me—the demon vanished, and I beheld the pale phantom of my murdered father, extending towards me his protecting arms. At this moment of intense excitement, the spell which bound me was dissolved—I awoke, and saw by the brilliant moonlight a tall figure, enveloped in a mantle, approaching me in stealthy silence. Gazing more intently, I discovered a dagger in his grasp. In an instant I was on my feet—the figure rushed forward, but ere he could reach me, I stood behind the tree, and thus gained time to level a pistol at his head. Seeing me thus prepared, the villain retreated hastily, but escaped not the bullet, which my unerring weapon buried in his back. He reeled and fell; and his life-blood was ebbing fast, when I stooped to examine his features. Raising the slouched hat which concealed his face, I immediately recognised a handsome Greek, attached to the retinue of Barozzo. I had occasionally seen this man in a tavern at Peschiera. His demeanour was fierce and repulsive, but my eagerness to learn some particulars of my father’s untimely death in Candia prompted me to cultivate his acquaintance, and I played with him the game of Morra, forgave his losses, and paid for his wine. Whether the remembrance of this kindness excited his compunction, or whether he wished to atone for his past offences, I know not, but he thus addressed me in broken accents:

“‘Son of Montalto! a just retribution has overtaken me. My necessities sold me to the savage Barozzo. He hired the dagger which pierced thy noble father, and the same weapon would have destroyed thee had not thy better fortune interposed. Listen to the counsel of a dying man. Beware of Barozzo! He has a long grasp, and will not spare thy young life. Fly, without delay, or thy destruction is inevitable!’

“Here his voice failed him; a convulsive tremor shook his frame; he became motionless, and apparently lifeless. But Greeks are cunning to a proverb, and as it was of vital moment to conceal from the governor the failure of his murderous design, I struck the assassin’s dagger deep into his heart, and rolled him down the slope of a contiguous ravine. I now recollected that Barozzo had twenty Greek bloodhounds carousing in the taverns of Peschiera, and thinking it too probable that he had commissioned more than one of them to hunt me down, I crossed the lake, to devise with you the means to detach this demon from his myrmidons, and force him into single combat. I have bound myself, by all that is most sacred, to destroy him, or to perish in the attempt; and should no fair and open avenue to vengeance offer, I will stab him at Foscari’s table, or even rend him limb from limb at Laura’s feet. And now, my Angelo! I conjure you by our bond of friendship, by every generous feeling in your nature, to lend me that aid, without which I shall be driven to the desperate and ignoble alternative of assassination. You know well that it would be in vain to summon the governor of Candia to a personal encounter. He is a veteran soldier of established reputation, and he knows that he need not fight to maintain it; nor will a man who has reached the summit of opulence and distinction descend from his vantage-ground, and risk the loss of so much earthly good in mortal combat with the proscribed and desperate son of Montalto.”

To this tale of visionary and real horrors, heightened and dramatised by the indignant eloquence of Colonna, I listened with intense interest, and my abhorrence of the monstrous cruelty of Barozzo swelled into active sympathy and a firm resolve to second, at all hazards, the just vengeance of this noble and deeply-injured youth. I felt also the necessity of immediate interference to save his life. The governor was evidently fearful of the retribution so justly due to his unparalleled atrocity, and he had, moreover, been galled to the quick by the taunting deportment of the young artist while sitting for his portrait. He would soon suspect the failure of his first attempt upon the life of Colonna, and would inevitably follow up his base design by employing the numerous daggers in his pay. The hatred of the young Florentine was deadly and implacable, and his determination to sacrifice this mortal foe of his family spurned all control, and raged like a tempest; but his impetuosity would prevent the accomplishment of his object, and too probably betray him into the toils of his cool and crafty enemy, who never quitted the Villa Foscari without one or more well-armed attendants. From an affectation, too, of military display, or probably from a consciousness that he had many personal enemies, the governor wore at all times a corselet of scaled armour, composed of the light, well-tempered Spanish steel, which resists the point of sword or dagger. Had I wished to save the life of this lawless pander to the cruelty of Cosmo, I saw no expedient which would not expose my valued friend to imminent and deadly peril; and could I for a moment hesitate between the chivalrous, the princely Colonna, so unrivalled in form and feature, so elevated and pure in sentiment, so eminently fitted, by his high intelligence, his glowing diction, and his kindling, all-impelling energies, to rouse a better, higher, nobler spirit, in all who came within the sphere of his activity—could I pause an instant between this first of nature’s nobles and the base Barozzo, who, inaccessible to pity, and fortified against all compunction by years of crime, had, unprovoked, and with the malice of a demon, destroyed the best and bravest of the sons of Florence?

With prompt and ardent enthusiasm, I assured him of my devotion to his cause, and unfolded to him a stratagem, which my knowledge of the surrounding country, and of the habits of Barozzo, had readily suggested. During the frequent absence of Colonna, I had occasionally joined the governor in his equestrian excursions, and, from neighbourly feeling to the senator Foscari, had escorted his guest to the most picturesque scenery of this romantic district. His rides were daily, and at the same hour. I proposed to join him as usual, and to lead him into a narrow and unfrequented defile in the mountains, which rise from the lake about three leagues from Peschiera. Colonna might there await and force him into personal encounter, while I would act as umpire, and prevent any interference from the Greek escort of the wary chieftain. At this proposal Colonna eagerly approached, and embraced me with grateful rapture. His dark eye kindled with its wonted fire; his pallid cheeks were flushed; the settled gloom, which had so long clouded his fine features, vanished like mists before the sun, and was succeeded by a radiant and exulting energy, eloquently expressive of his conviction that the hope on which he had lived so long—the hope of just revenge—would now be realised.

I urged him to seek, in immediate repose, the restoration of his exhausted strength, and undertook to provide him with a managed horse, armour, and weapons, which should place him upon a level with his mailed and well-mounted antagonist. Horse and armour, however, he promptly declined. He would find an expedient, he said, to compel Barozzo to fight him foot to foot, and he pledged himself to find a way with a good weapon through the scaly corselet of his serpent foe. He requested only a straight two-edged sword, of well-tried temper; and a woodman’s axe, the purpose of which he did not explain. He then left me, to plunge into the lake, and to find in its pure and bracing waters that refreshment which, he said, it would be a vain attempt to obtain in sleep, while I proceeded to my father’s armoury, and selected from the numerous weapons which adorned it, a long and powerful two-edged blade, which he had brought from the Levant. This sword was black from hilt to point, and destitute of ornament, except some golden hieroglyphics near the guard; but I knew that it had stood the brunt of several stirring campaigns, without material injury to its admirable edge and temper.

After a short and unrefreshing slumber, I arose with the sun, and hastened, with the sword and woodman’s axe, to the saloon of Colonna. His garb was usually plain, almost to homeliness, and chosen probably with a view to the better concealment of his rank; but for this day of vengeance he had donned the princely costume of the Tuscan nobles. A rich vest of embroidered scarlet, and pantaloons of woven silk, were closely fitted to his noble person, which, I have said before, was fashioned in the choicest mould of manly beauty, and now, so worthily adorned, displayed in all its high perfection that faultless union of symmetry and strength, so rarely seen in life; equalling, indeed, the Vatican Antinous in classic elegance of form, but far surpassing that fine statue in stature and heroic character of look and bearing. A mantle of the richest velvet hung from his well-formed shoulders, while a nodding plume adorned his Spanish hat and shaded his dark eyes, which lighted up as they beheld me with bright and eager flashes of impatience.

“Thou art indeed the ‘pearl and pride of Florence,’ my Colonna!” I exclaimed, in irrepressible admiration, applying, as I approached him, the poetical simile of his Laura.

Regardless of the compliment, he grasped the unpretending weapon I held out to him, and plucked it from the scabbard. Tracing at a glance its Oriental pedigree, he doubled the strong blade with ease, until the point touched and rebounded from the guard, and then severed with its unyielding edge an iron nail projecting from the wall. “This plain old weapon,” said he, with an exulting smile, “is worth a dukedom. ’Twill pierce a panoply of Milan steel, and I pledge myself to make it search the vitals of this ruffian governor. But these are words, Pisani; and words, the Roman proverb says, are feminine, while deeds alone are masculine. Farewell, then, till we meet in the defile. It is essential to my purpose that I reach the ground some hours before Barozzo.”

He then embraced me cordially, concealed the axe beneath his mantle, and departed for the mountains, intending to cross the lake to a point not distant from the scene of action. At an early hour I mounted my horse, and rode towards the Villa Foscari. In the vicinity of Peschiera I descried the governor proceeding on his daily morning excursion to the mountains. I had hitherto rarely seen him with more than one attendant, but he was now closely followed by two well-mounted Greeks of lofty stature, attired in the gorgeous costume of the Levant, and armed with scimitar and dagger. The square and athletic person of their chief was arrayed in the splendid garb of a military commander of distinguished rank. His ample chest was covered with a corselet of light scale-armour, which yielded to every motion of his frame, and was partially concealed by a broad sash, and a capacious velvet mantle. A sword of unusual length hung from his belt, whence also projected the handle of a poniard, which blazed with jewels of great lustre and value. At the age of forty-two, Barozzo was still in the full vigour of manhood; and the martial ease and energy of his movements indicated that he would find full occupation for the quick eye and unrivalled skill of the comparatively unarmed Colonna.

The governor saluted me as usual, and after some remarks upon the beauty of the surrounding scenery, he carelessly inquired where my friend the painter was. I replied, that he was gone up the lake in his bark, and described him as an itinerant personage, who delighted in ranging over the Brescian mountains, where he passed a considerable portion of his time in sketching, and was but an occasional inmate of my father’s villa. The governor made no comment, and resumed his observations on the wild mountain scenery to which we were approaching. I inquired if he had yet discovered in his rides a defile of singular and romantic beauty, the avenue to which, from the main-road, was concealed by a grove of beech. He replied in the negative, and assented to my proposal that we should explore it. A ride of two hours brought us to the secluded entrance of this picturesque ravine, and we descended into its deep and silent recesses. The road was stony, rugged, and unfrequented; and, except at intervals, admitted only two horsemen abreast. The mountains on each side rose with bold abruptness, and their mossy surfaces were dotted with perennial oaks and lofty beeches, which threw their arched and interwoven branches across the chasm, and intercepted agreeably the glare and heat of the morning sun. We had proceeded about a league along this still and dusky hollow, when we distinguished the sound of a woodman’s axe, and the sharp report of its echo from the opposite cliffs. We soon reached the spot above which the labourer was employed; but the profusion of foliage and underwood entirely screened the person of the woodman, whose axe continued to descend with unabated energy. We had advanced about a hundred paces beyond this point, when our course was arrested by a groaning and mighty crash, succeeded by a stunning shock, which shook the ravine like an earthquake, and was re-echoed in deep, long mutterings by the adjacent rocks. Tranquillising our startled coursers, we looked around and beheld a colossal beech, lying in the narrow pathway, which it filled up like a rampart. The Greeks, who had loitered to discern, if possible, the person of the vigorous woodman, were intercepted by the fallen giant of the mountain, but had escaped injury, as we could perceive them in their saddles through the foliage.

Startled by the ominous appearance of this incident, the governor immediately rode back, and bade his attendants dismount and lead their horses over a sheep-path which rose on the mountain slope, above the level of the fallen tree, while he would ride on slowly until they rejoined him. Execrating the peasant who had thus annoyed him, he turned his courser’s head, and we proceeded at a slow pace to the now contiguous spot which I had described to Colonna as best suited to his purpose. Here the base of an enormous cliff projected like a rampart into the defile, and sloped abruptly into two right angles, connected by a level line of nearly perpendicular rock, which rose in castellated grandeur to a towering height. The numerous crevices and hollows were fringed with dazzling heath-flowers and luxuriant creepers, between which the bare black surface of the rock frowned on the passing gazer like the ruined stronghold of some mountain robber. We now turned the first angle of the cliff, looking upward as we rode at the majestic front of this singular work of nature. Still gazing, we had proceeded about fifty paces, and the governor was remarking, that the level and lofty summit would make a commanding military station, when suddenly our coursers halted, and looking down we saw before us the tall and kingly figure of Colonna, standing like an apparition in the pathway. His right hand rested on his unsheathed sword, and his attitude was that of careless and assured composure; but in his gathered brow, and in the boding glitter of his eye, I could discern the deadly purpose of the forest lion, about to spring upon his prey, and fully confident in his own powers and resources. At this sudden encounter of Montalto’s son, who seemed to start with spectral abruptness from the ground beneath us, Barozzo shook in his saddle as if he had seen an accusing spirit. For a moment the blood left his face, his breath shortened, and his chest heaved with strong internal emotion, but his iron features soon regained their wonted character of intrepidity. He then darted upon me a keen look of inquiry and suspicion; before, however, he had time to speak, Colonna was upon him. Rapidly advancing, he seized the bridle of his horse, and thus addressed him:—“Barozzo! the measure of thy crimes is full, and retribution is at hand! Colonna the painter is no more, but the son of Montalto has escaped thy dagger, and demands atonement for his father’s blood. Dismount, assassin! and defend thy worthless life!”

The deep and startling grandeur of Colonna’s voice, and the implacable hostility which flashed from his fierce eyeballs, shook the firm sinews of the guilty governor, and again his swarthy lineaments were blanched with terror. By a sudden and powerful effort, however, he regained self-mastery, and gathering into his grim features all the pride and insolence of his soul, he darted upon his youthful enemy a sneer of contempt. “Presuming vagrant!” he shouted, in accents hoarse with wrath, “dare to impede my progress, and my retinue, which is at hand, shall scatter thy limbs on the highway!”

Still firmly grasping the bridle, Colonna eyed him for a moment with quiet scorn, and then he smiled—briefly indeed, but with a stinging mockery, a hot and withering scorn of eye and lip, that seared the haughty chieftain to the brain. Writhing with sudden frenzy, he spurred his mettled charger, and endeavoured to ride down his opponent; but the generous animal, true to the instincts of a nature nobler than his master’s, refused to advance, and plunged and demi-volted with a violence which would have unseated a less experienced rider. At this moment, the heavy trampling of approaching horses rolled in doubling echoes through the ravine. Encouraged by the welcome sound, Barozzo attempted to draw his sword, but before the plunging of his horse would allow him to reach the hilt, the vigilant Colonna smote him on the cheek with his sheathed weapon. Then relinquishing the bridle, and stepping lightly sideways, he struck the horse’s flank, and the startled animal, straining every sinew, bounded away like a ball, and quickly disappeared round the second angle of the cliff, followed by the loud laugh of the exulting Colonna, whose fierce ha! ha! re-echoed through the rocky hollow like a trumpet-call. Meanwhile the Greeks, who had turned the first angle in time to behold the termination of the struggle, drew their sabres, and pushing their horses into a gallop, rushed down upon us like infuriated tigers. Anticipating their attack, I was not unprepared to aid my gallant friend in this emergency; but all assistance was superfluous to one so fertile in resources. He turned with graceful promptitude upon the savage Cretans, and before their powerful steeds could measure the short intervening distance, his sword was firmly set between his teeth, and two pistols appeared with magical abruptness in his grasp. Levelled by an eye which never failed, these weapons lodged a bullet in the breast of each approaching Greek. The colossal riders reeled in their saddles; their sabres quivered in their weakened grasp, and reclining for support upon the necks of their startled horses, they successively passed us, and turned the angle beyond which their chief had disappeared. Colonna now threw down his pistols, and exclaimed exultingly, “Now is the crowning hour, my Angelo! follow me, and you shall find the scaly monster of my dream caught in a trap from which no human power can free him.”

I rode by his side in wondering anticipation, and when we had passed the angle, I beheld a scene which still remains engraven on my memory. The defile here expanded into an irregular oval, the extremity of which was blocked up by a dense and impervious mass of young beech and poplar, rising above thrice the height of a tall man, and levelled that morning by the ponderous axe of the indefatigable Colonna. The courser of Barozzo had plunged deep into the leafy labyrinth, and the unhorsed governor, entangled by his velvet drapery, was endeavouring to extricate himself from the forked and intersecting branches, while the horses of the Greeks stood panting in the shade, near the bleeding bodies of their fallen masters, and the noble brutes snorted with horror, and shook in every joint, as with lowered necks and flaming eyes, they snuffed the blood of the expiring wretches.

As we approached the governor, he succeeded in releasing himself by cutting his rich mantle into shreds with his dagger. Stepping out of his leafy toils, he stood before us like a wild beast caught in a hunter’s trap, foaming, furious, and breathless, but evidently dismayed by the sudden and irremediable loss of his armed followers. Divested of the drapery which had served the double purpose of concealment and display, we observed that he was accoutred in back and breast proof armour, of the light steel scales I have before described. He looked the very serpent of Colonna’s dream, and the malignant scowl of his small and snaky eyes gave singular force to the resemblance. His generous enemy allowed him time to recover from the fatigue of disentangling himself, and then approached him. “Barozzo!” said he, “last night I shot thy cowardly assassin. In dying penitence he called himself thy agent in the murder of my noble parent, and bade me shun the daggers of thy savage Cretans. But Montalto’s son would risk a thousand lives to gain his just revenge, and again he warns thee to defend thy life. Pisani shall be umpire of the combat, and his time-honoured name is pledge enough that no foul play is meant thee.”

The governor, who had now recovered breath and self-possession, folded his arms, and met the stern defiance of his youthful foe with a look of contemptuous indifference. Not deigning a reply, he addressed himself to me in tones of angry expostulation, and expressed his indignant surprise that a son of the Senator Pisani should thus lend himself to the designs of a young vagrant, who was destined to grace the benches of a galley. My reply was anticipated by the fiery Colonna, whose sword flashed with lightning quickness from the scabbard, while his haughty lip curled up with unutterable scorn.

“Remorseless villain!” he shouted, in a voice of appalling wrath, “I know a venom yet shall sting thy recreant spirit into action. Know, Ercole Barozzo! that Foscari’s daughter was wooed and won by me—plighted her troth to me—long ere she saw thy truculent and yellow visage. Nay, more, she would ere this have fled with me from Lombardy, had not higher duties staid our mutual purpose.”

The governor, although a renowned and fearless soldier in earlier life, had betrayed a terror on the first view of Colonna, and a reluctance to engage with him in single-handed conflict, which I had referred to the depressing action of a diseased conscience, or to the increased love of life generated by his prosperous condition; but a taunt like this was beyond all human endurance; it stung him to the very soul, and roused his lazy valour into life and fury. His sinews stiffened with rage, and his widely-opened eyes glared upon Colonna like those of a tigress at bay, while his teeth remained firmly clenched, and inaudible maledictions quivered on his working lips. Tearing his formidable sword from its sheath, he rushed like one delirious upon his adversary, and their blades met with a clash which told the deadly rancour of the combatants.

I now witnessed a conflict unparalleled for intense and eager thirst of blood. It was truly the death-grapple of the lion and the serpent. The noble and generous Colonna, pursuing his just revenge, and trusting, like the kingly animal, to native strength and courage, sought no unfair advantage; while the crafty Barozzo, huge in body, tortuous in mind, and scaled with impenetrable steel, well personified the reptile of Colonna’s vision. Although a practised and wary swordsman, he did not wield his weapon like Colonna, who, with equal skill in stratagem and feint, was unrivalled in that lightning-quickness and ready sympathy of eye and hand, for which the Italians are pre-eminent amongst the swordsmen of Europe; but the courage and self-possession of the governor had been exercised in frequent conflicts with the Moslem; his sinews were strung with martial toil and daily exercise; and his well-mailed person presented so little vulnerable surface as greatly to protract and facilitate his defence. He soon learned, however, to respect the formidable skill and untiring arm of his young opponent, whose weapon played with a motion so rapid and incessant, that he seemed to parry and thrust at the same instant; and had not the large and powerful hand of Barozzo retained a firm grasp of his hilt, he would have been disarmed at the first onset. After a few passes, Colonna’s point struck the centre of the governor’s corselet with a force which made the scales sink deep beneath the pressure, but the tempered steel resisted this and many other well-directed hits. The conflict proceeded with unabated fierceness, and for a period which would have utterly exhausted men of ordinary lungs and sinews, when Barozzo, finding all his lunges ineffective, and fearing premature exhaustion, endeavoured to sustain and collect his powers by remaining on the defensive; but it was now too late. His sword was irrecoverably entangled in the whirlwind involutions of Colonna’s weapon—his hold began to relax—and he saw the moment rapidly approaching when he should be disarmed, and at the mercy of an unappeasable foe. Despairing of success, thirsting for revenge, and regardless of the laws of fair and open combat, he suddenly drew his long dagger, dropped on one knee, and made a thrust which would have proved fatal to a less vigilant adversary. But Colonna had anticipated the possibility of this base attempt from one so destitute of all chivalrous feeling, and his quick eye observed and met the movement. Stepping lightly back, he whirled his keen-edged blade with a force which cut deep into Barozzo’s wrist. The dagger dropped from his palsied grasp, and, at the same instant, his sword flew above his head. Colonna, having disarmed his treacherous enemy while still kneeling, disdained to follow up his advantage, and coolly said to him, “That trick was worthy of you, governor! but your murderous game is nearly up. Resume your sword, and clutch the guard more firmly, or in three passes more you will be food for vultures!”

Barozzo, who had started from the ground, and now stood foaming at the mouth like a chafed panther, said nothing in reply, but seized his sword, and rushed upon his generous adversary with desperate but unavailing ferocity. I could now perceive that Colonna pressed him more hotly than before, and that his point no longer sought the corselet, but the throat of Barozzo, where indeed alone he was mortally vulnerable, and where, ere long, the death-stroke reached him. A few passes had been exchanged without a hit, when suddenly Barozzo’s sword again flew from his grasp, and long before it reached the ground, Colonna’s point was buried in his throat. The thrust was mortal. The steel had severed the duct of life; the hot blood bubbled out in streams; and the huge Barozzo staggered, reeled, and fell upon his back. A bloody froth now gathered round his lips, which worked with agony and rage; the life-blood ebbed apace, and soon the trunk and limbs of the colossal chieftain were stiffened in death. But even in death the dominant passions of his soul were strongly written in his livid features. His glazed and sunken eyes still glared with fiend-like malice on his conqueror, and every lineament was inwrought with reckless and insatiable ferocity.

Colonna gazed a while in solemn and impressive silence upon the foe he had destroyed. His broad forehead darkened with deep thought, and his eyes saddened with painful recollections of the beloved parent whose untimely death he had so well avenged. Soon, however, his noble features brightened with a fervent look of blended filial piety and exultation. He wiped his reeking blade upon the remnants of Barozzo’s mantle, and we retraced our steps. Colonna ascended a sheep-path, and crossed the mountain to regain his boat, while I returned by a circuitous road to the villa, leaving the governor of Candia and his retinue to the vultures of the Apennine, which, with unerring ken, had espied the dead Greeks, and were already sailing in wide eddies high above the scene of blood.


Here my friend, who had with difficulty pursued his way through the mouldy pages of the decayed manuscript, was compelled to make a final pause. The long action of time and damp had nearly obliterated the remainder of the narrative, and glimpses only of romantic perils by sea and land were occasionally discernible. We were obliged to suspend all farther gratification of our curiosity until our return to Venice, where we hoped by a chemical process to succeed in restoring to a more legible tint the pale characters of this interesting manuscript.