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with which they served the lords, to whom they became subject, had won from these petty tyrants many privileges at an early period of modern Italian story, and there exist authentic monuments of those accorded them by the Viscontis and the Scaligers. They did not experience less indulgence from the Venetian republic on falling under her dominion; for, though they were subjected, as to many points, to the provincial government of the circle in which they lay, they in many other respects legislated for themselves, and may be said to have had a parliament of their own, whose place of sittings is still to be seen in the town of Asiago. It will, however, be scarcely necessary to add, that the Sette Communi lost their privileges on being subjected to the yoke of Austria. They are now entirely subjected to the provincial government of WiCenza. I have now put together all
here, except myself, has lighted a fire, though the fleas are already put down by the cold; a riddance which I consider as counterbalancing the worst that winter can do unto me. People here do not usually light their fires till after St. Martin's day, which falls, I think, about the 10th of November.
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VENETIAN FESTIVALS. (From the same.)
The Christmas holidays, properly speaking, are just past. The first, beginning with Christmas eve, is a day of great festivity with the Venetians; one of those on which the head of a house usually entertains his family and friends; almost every such person having a day, as St. Martin's or Christmas eve, appropriated to such a o On these occasions the rich and liberal feed many, and feast high, though in the present instance, as
that appeared to me worthy of it is the vigil of a holiday, and
notice, in what has been written, or F. of this people: but if I had extracted one half of what has actually been put in print, on this subject, I might have filled a quarto. Believing, however, that you have, as well as myself, little taste for hunting possibilities under the disguise of probabilities, I abstained from the task; considering that should you be given to this unsubstantial chase, we have sufficient home-brewed trash of the kind without resorting to foreign markets. The weather, which has driven the inhabitants of the Sette Commoni into the plains, seems to have pursued them; yet, nobody
one of those very few meager days which are (generally speaking) observed by the Italian laity, their fare is confined to loaves and fishes. Even I cannot refuse
* a tribute to the excellence of the table of Christmas eve, though, after feeding two or three months on Catholic and frugal cates in Tuscany, where
because more varied on these solemn days. On these the Italians usually dine late; and on this occasion the lower people of Venice seldom dine at all, working double tides at supper. The practice seems to originate in the notion that it is not right to make superfluous meals on this solemn day, the inconsistency of turning the single one, to which they confine themselves, into a feast, having nothing which is revolting to their ideas. It should, however, be observed, that this practice depends purely upon popular opinion, and on no injunction of the church. Speaking of these feasts, I was invited, I recollect, once, on St. Martin's day, by a hospitable family of Vicenza, but declined the honour, on being informed by an annual guest that the table was laid on that occasion with forty covers. It is difficult, indeed, to conceive any thing more tedious than one of these solemn repasts, on whatever occasion it may be held, at which every dish is carved and circled at intervals. This is, no doubt, a most rational custom in the main, leaving host and guests at liberty; but the time, occupied by the practice, " when the society is numerous, is surely more than a counterbalance to the convenience. I remember, for instance, being once present at a dinner, given by the cardinal pro-secretary of state at Rome, where the company consisted of twenty-five persons, and the dinner, in consequence, lasted for three hours. I don't know whether three or four other English, who were present, suffered as much as I did, but, for myself, I
never felt half so fatigued at any after-dinner-sitting in England or in Scotland. For, though both customs are bad enough, it is surely better to drink when one is not dry than to eat when one is not hungry. For the Venetian holidays I have mentioned there are set dishes, as there are with us, and some of them of as strange composition: witness, one of fruits, preserved with sugar, spices, and mustard, which is the Venetian equivalent for a minced-pie. For the rest, the fare, of Christmas eve, though meagre, is, as I have said, magnificent, always bating a sort of pye-pottage, called torta de lasagne, which might, I suppose, pair off with plum-porridge itself. There is indeed one circumstance very favorable to the meagre department of the kitchen. The Mediterranean and Adriatic, in addition to most of those of our own coasts, have various delicate fish which are not to be found in the British seas. Of the tunny, sword-fish, and many others of the larger classes, you have of course read. Some others, which are rare with us, as the red mullet, swarm in these latitudes; and some tribes which are known to us, here break into varieties which are infinitely better flavoured than the parent stock. Amongst such may be reckoned a sort of lobster, a crab of gentler kind, and various shell fish, entitled sea-fruit in Italy, all which might well merit the eloquence of an Athenaeus. But not to pass by the torta de lasagne, of which I had nearly lost sight, though its taste is fresh in in my recollection: it is composed of oil, onions, paste, parsley, pine-nuts, raisins, currants, and candied orange peel, a dish which, you will recollect, is to serve as a prologue to fish or flesh . It ought, however, to be stated that the ordinary pottage of this country, and which is, generally speaking, that of all ranks in Wenice, requires no prejudices of education or habit to make it go down, but may be considered as a dish to be eat at sight. It consists in rice boiled in beef broth, not sodden, and rari mantes, as in England and France, but firm, and in such quantity as to nearly, or quite, absorb the bouillon in which they are cooked: to this is added grated Parmesan cheese. And the mess admits other additions, as tomatas, onions, celery, parsley, &c. Rice thus dressed, which have drunk up the broth, are termed risi destirai, as capable of being spread, right or left, with the spoon. There is also a vulgar variety of the dish, termed risi a la bechera, or rice dressed butcher fashion. In this the principal auxiliary is marrow, which, if it is entirely incorporated in the grain, makes a pottage that (speaking after a friend) would almost justify the sacrifice of an Esau. The mode of cooking the rice to a just degree of consistency, seems taken from the Turks, who have a saying that rice, as a proof of being well drest, should be capable of being counted. You will recollect the importance attached to this grain by the Janissaries, whose rice-kettles - serve as standards; and, in general, by
the Turkish militia, which is recruited by parading them, and calling for the services of such as eat the rice of the Grand Signior. An almost equal degree of respect is attached to this food by the Venetians, and it is a common thing, on hiring a Venetian maid-servant, for her to stipulate for a certain monthly salary, and her rice. Another custom, derived from the long intercourse of Venice with Turkey, is the presenting coffee at visits. Neither do the Venetians yield to their masters in the manufacture of this be
verage, the flavour of which de
pends much more on its mode of preparation than its quality; and it is curious enough that England, where the coffee-berry and the cacao-nut are to be had in perfection, should be the only country in Europe where the drink which is composed from them
is unsufferable. To return to a theme on which I have already touched, the strange fashions of food which have some how or other passed into use amongst different nations, whilst they are poison to their neighbours, from the torta de lasagne of Venice to the partridge and poultice of Eng- . land; there seems to be but one general exception to this principle, which is the coupling bread, or some substitute for it, with meat—a practice which is, I believe, common to all nations that have grain, or farinaceous fruit or root, within their reach. But this fact does not prove that there is any natural standard of taste: for this union of bread and meat is not dictated by instinct, though
in what it originates, except in the agreement of different countries in its wholesomeness, I know not. A strong proof of its not being dictated by instinct I have witnessed in Italian as well as English children, who are both trained with difficulty to the ractice, and usually enticed into it by bonuses of beef and mutton. A whimsical confirmation, indeed, of my opinion was lately offered, by o place, in an old gentleman, who, not having been in infancy either beat or bribed into bread, never adopted it in afterlife, continuing to his death a curious specimen of unsophisticated carrion. If his example makes against the notion of this use originating in instinct, it might also (as far as a single instance can tell) suggest some doubt of its necessity; for the carnivorous person lived long and merrily. The present anecdote, and some others which I have not given you, and more particularly the having once seen a man eat melon with Spanish snuff (a sight not singular, as I am told, in Italy), have almost forced the conviction upon me, that there is no such thing as a gamut for the palate. If you urge, in opposition, the general analogy of nature, I do not know what battle I can make; but if you attack me with the trite instance of the passion of young children for spirits, I shall observe that they soon grow out of it: and this, therefore, seems to prove nothing more than an early obtuseness of palate, which is gratified by any thing that is stimulating. And something analogous may be re
marked in the young of other animals, as in puppy-dogs, who eat filth till they come to dog's estate, &c. Having related the domestic uses of Chrismas eve, there yet remain those of two other days to be described. The table of Christmas day is besieged by a much smaller circle than on the vigil of the feast, being, on the present occasion, only surrounded by the family, or those intimately connected with it. Here too there are dishes of prescription, though I never heard that any penalty was attached to the abstaining from them, as is the case in England. But as almost every superstition exists, in its whole or parts, all the world over, so this is also to be found here under the general head of Moon, who, as the arbitress of tides, is the great cause of all inexplicable effects. Hence a lower Venetian, who has no money in his pocket, at the appearance of this planet, expects to remain without it till she has repaired her horns. St. Stephen's day brings with it, I believe, little that is remarkable, except the general rush from all parts of Venice to the theatres, which, having been closed for a short time, re-open on that day. There seems to be as much superstition, indeed, as to being seen at the Opera, at the theatre of the Fenice, on that occasion, as is attached to eating the torta de lasagne on Chrismas-eve. The only intelligible attraction is, that the Opera is always new ; but as such, it must necessarily be deficient in the precision of its machinery. Notwithstanding such an objection, a box, on this
night, cannot be had under five or, perhaps, ten guineas, which, three nights afterwards, may be procured for one—nay, at the interval of some weeks, at the price of fifteen pence, as I know from personal experience. If it is suspension of rank not to appear at the Phoenix; it is absolute forfeiture of cast not to be able to say that you were at some theatre or other; and, on the evening of St. Stephen, not a lady is to be found at home in Venice. To take a long leap : the Epiphany is called here the Epifania, or Besania, indifferently; as if it took its name from the Besana— an odd sort of she-goblin, who is supposed to preside over Twelfthday. This is not distinguished by the ceremonies with which it is celebrated by us, though some of these were of Latin origin. The rites are propitiatory of the Befana, who seems to fill the same place here which the queen of the fairies formerly did in England. Children usually leave her a part of their supper, or, at least, a brown roll (for she is supposed to prefer brown bread to white), and a tumbler of wine. As a receptacle for the exchange of merchandize, they suspend a stocking in the kitchen, which is found, the next morning, filled with dirt, rubbish, and a few sweatmeats. I need not observe that the bread and wine disappear. At Rome a puppet, representing the Besana, is dressed up and hung with Christmas presents. There is nothing here, that I am aware of, which is interesting in the scenic part of the religious functions of this festival, with the exception of the music of a hos,
called la Pastorale, in commemoration of that with which our Saviour is supposed to have been saluted by the shepherds, and usually imitative of the sounds of the pastoral pipes. This, which is various in various churches, is always composed according to the principles of the old school. Its tone, on this solemn occasion, is much relished by the Italians, notwithstanding they are by no means fond of ancient music, having (as I should imagine is the general disposition of man) much more sensibility to melody than harmony, and seldom pretending to a taste which they do not really possess.
You will not, I think, quarrel with me for stringing together the “auld world,” as well as the newer stories of the place; the less so as all recollections of ancient Venice may be considered as things saved from the waters. The customs of the city have changed; her ports and channels are filling up, and her palaces are crumbling into ruins. Yet a little, and Venice will be a Babylon, with the substitution of the gull for the bittern and the porpus for the fox. Should you be (as I believe) desirous of raking for riches amidst her rubbish, read the Feste Veneziane, lately published by la Dama Reniel Michièl. This lady has, in her description of the Venetian festivals, put together much that is curious and interesting, and having formed a chaplet out of relics long trampled in the dirt, hung it up on the altars of her country, in a spirit that would not have misseemed the most illustrious of her ancestry.