ON BOARD THE “MONGOLIA”

April 27th.—Heads and skins had to be sorted out, turpentined, packed and
sent by sea from Suez, together with Mahoom and Girgas, the latter an
Abyssinian whom Mr. Phillipps is taking home with him as a servant. On
the 28th we left Suez for Cairo, arriving there at about 5 p.m., where I
found several letters awaiting me—some of rather old dates. Of course the
wildest reports of our massacre had reached Cairo, and been the topic of
the day at the time. Our stay in Cairo was of short duration this time,
as we found the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s steamboat _Mongolia_
would be leaving Alexandria on the 4th May. Messrs. Colvin and Aylmer
went on to India, but the rest of us started for England.

Leaving Alexandria on the 4th, with a goodly number of passengers, about
120, we had a pleasant voyage to Venice, passing on the 5th the Morea,
Navarino, and Caudia, on the 6th Xante and Cephalonia, and on the 7th
arrived at Brindisi, viewing Montenegro and Corfu in the distance. There
we got rid of the mails, and fully half the passengers, and at 6 p.m.
on the 8th steamed up the grand canal, and soon arrived at Venice, the
Queen of the Adriatic, the home of poetry and song. How pleasant it was
to find myself, after all this Arab life, comfortably housed at the Hotel
d’Italie, amongst civilized people, I will leave the reader to judge.
There were a great many notables on board, amongst them several ladies
connected with officials in Cairo. We knew that matters were a little
unsettled in Egypt at this time, and so drew our own conclusions. These
ladies were being sent out of the way, and within 3 or 4 weeks after I
had seen the last of the great square in Alexandria it was in ruins.
There were on board big men and little men, both in stature and in their
own estimation. There were fat men and thin men, agreeable and chatty
men, disagreeable and morose men, humble and meek men, busy and sleepy
men, easy-going looking men, one or two of the “Ah! I see, thanks, I’ll
not twouble you” kind of fellows, Colonels, Lieut.-Colonels, and other
officers, Governors and Judges returning home on leave of absence, and
genial, good-hearted, jolly sort of fellows. I acted here, as I always
do at home, avoided the starchy “Ah! I see—not-twouble-you kind of
fellows,” full of their own importance, whose brains are concentrated
in their nicely-polished boots, &c., and fraternised with the sociable,
sensible, good-hearted kind. Amongst them was one of my own profession,
brimful of Hibernian humour and mirth. He was a brigade-surgeon in the
68th in India, where he had been for 25 years, and was now on leave of
absence. Dr. Kilkelly and I conceived a mutual regard for one another.
He and I, with a Judge from Cawnpore, a Colonel and Lieut.-Colonel,
generally got together on the deck, enjoying ourselves very comfortably
until we parted. I cannot remember all the jokes and witticisms of our
friend, Dr. Kilkelly, but I do remember one circumstance that amused us
all immensely, and caused great laughter, as much in the way of saying
it as the thing that was said. We had been having a great talk about
the Soudan. When I happened to say “Two of our party are going on from
Cairo to India, and will not be in England until this time next year,”
the doctor exclaimed, “Sure, ye don’t say they are going on there now? I
could not have thought a man in his senses would be going to India now.
Do ye know what it is like this time of the year?”

“Hot, I suppose,” said I, whilst the others smoked their pipes and looked
amused, evidently expecting some “rale Irish joke.”

“Well, then, I’ll tell ye,” said our humorous friend, with a merry
twinkle in his eye, and a really comic aspect; “d’ye know, docthor, when
I have been in India this time of the year I have often made the natives
dig a grave for me to lie in, half fill it with grass and pour buckets
of cold wather on me to keep me from melting. I’ll tell ye another
thing—cholera is so bad at this time of the year, that, by the Viceroy’s
orders, coffins of all sizes are kept ready at the railway stations, and
when the ticket-collector goes round, saying, ‘Yere tickets, plase,’ he
finds a poor divil in the corner who does not respond; looks at him,
finds him dead, pulls him out, finds a coffin the right size, puts him
in, and by St. Pathrick he’s buried before the sun sets. Now what d’ye
think of that? That’s what India’s like this time of the year.”

Of course we all roared with laughter at the voluble and comical way in
which this was said, and I mentally made a note that I should not start
for India in May for my first visit.

Amongst our passengers were two sons of Sir Salar Jung, the Prime
Minister of the Nizam of Hyderabad, on a visit to England. The elder
one, though young, was a very Colossus, and an extremely intelligent,
agreeable fellow, who spoke English fairly well, and was very chatty.
He invited me, if I visited India, to visit him, and promised I should
have some tiger-hunting. Whether I shall ever do so, or he would remember
his promise, I don’t know—probably not. Dr. Kilkelly and I put up at the
same hotel (the Hôtel d’Italie), and spent a few days very pleasantly. I
cannot say I should like to live in a place where, if I enter my front
door, I must step out of a gondola, or if I want to visit a friend I must
cross the street in a gondola; but it is a charming place to pay a visit
to for a few days, especially for a person with a romantic and poetic
turn of mind, and although romance has, to a great extent been knocked
out of me, I still have sufficient of the poetic temperament to have been
highly pleased with my visit to Venice, short though it was.

Pursuing the course I have hitherto adopted, I will not leave Venice
without a brief sketch of it and my visits to various places of great
interest, although, perhaps, repeating an oft-told tale. The man who
ventures on a description of a visit to Venice ought to be thoroughly
imbued with romance and poetry ere he can do justice to his subject.
Under such circumstances I cannot hope to rival many another; but, as
the Yankees say, “I’ll do my level best.” On the evening of my arrival,
I met, by appointment, one of the officers of the _Mongolia_, whom I
accompanied to St. Mark’s Place. The side of the Piazza facing St. Mark
is a line of modern building erected by the French, somewhat in the style
of the Palais Royal at Paris, but yet having some sort of keeping with
the edifices on the south side. They are termed the Procuratie Nuove,
and form the south side, the Procuratie Vecchie the north side. The end
is composed of a French façade uniting the two. Near the east end of the
Procuratie Nuove, just by the point where it makes an angle with the
Piazetta, stands the Campanile of St. Mark. It is, in fact, the belfry
of the Cathedral, although it stands some considerable distance from it.
The separation of the belfry from the church is very common in Italy, and
there are a few instances of it in our own country. On the summit of the
Campanile is a large open belfry to which you ascend in the inside by
means of a series of inclined planes. The sides of the belfry are formed
by sixteen arches, four facing each quarter of the heavens. A gallery
with a parapet runs round the outside. I was told that the First Napoleon
ascended the inclined plane by means of a donkey. I, however, had to
walk it, and was well recompensed for my trouble by the magnificent view
obtained from the summit. Southward lies the noble Adriatic, with the
Pyrenees to the right; northward the Tyrolese Alps; immediately spreading
round this singular post of observation lies the city of Venice,
map-like, with its canals and neighbouring isles; and just under the eye,
to the east, is St. Mark’s Church, considerably below, with its fine
domes, its four bronze horses, its numerous pinnacles, and in front of it
its three tall, red standards.

It is impossible to describe the effect produced on the mind, on a
summer’s evening, as the sun is going down in his glory over the mainland
beyond the lagoons, lighting them up with his parting rays, while the
murmurs of the crowd assembled in St. Mark’s Place ascend like the hum of
bees around the hive door, and the graceful gondolas are seen noiselessly
gliding along the canals. Traversing the Piazza, we find ourselves in
the Piazetta running down from the east end of the great one by St.
Mark’s Church to the water-side, where the eye ranges over the lagoons
and isles. The next side of this open space contains a continuation
of the walk under arcades, which surround St. Mark’s Place. The upper
part exhibits a specimen of the Italian style, designed by Sansovino.
The whole belonged to the royal palace, or Palace of the Doges, which
extends along the south and west sides of the Piazza. Turning round the
west corner of the Piazetta, on the Mole, with the canal in front, we
see another of Sansovino’s works, called the Zecca, or Mint, from which
the gold coin of the Republic derived the name of Zecchino. In front of
the open space and landing steps of the Piazetta are two lofty columns,
which appear so prominently in the pictures of that part of Venice.
They are of granite, and came from Constantinople—trophies of Venetian
victories in the Turkish wars. The right hand column, looking towards the
sea, is surmounted by a figure of St. Mark, standing on a crocodile. The
left hand is surmounted by the lion of St. Mark. The west front of the
ducal palace forms the east side of the Piazetta; the south front runs
along the whole, and looks out upon the sea. They are its most ancient
portions. The front, overlooking the Piazetta, is composed of two rows of
arcades, one above the other; the lower a colonnade, the upper a gallery,
surmounted by a very large and lofty surface of wall of a reddish
marble, pierced by fine large windows. One gentleman says of it, “The
ducal palace is even more ugly than anything I have previously mentioned.”

Mr. Ruskin, on the other hand, says that, “Though in many respects
imperfect, it is a piece of rich and fantastic colour, as lovely a dream
as ever filled the imagination, and the proportioning of the columns and
walls of the lofty story is so lovely and so varied that it would need
pages of description before it could be fully understood.”

Having done the Campanile, and strolled round the Piazza and Piazetta, we
took our seats in the Piazza. On the west and south sides, as well as the
north, the lower part of the buildings under the arcades is appropriated
to shops or cafés. The latter are particularly celebrated. Towards sunset
the area of St. Mark’s Place is overspread with tables and chairs, where
ladies and gentlemen are seated at their ease, as if in a drawing-room,
taking refreshments. A space in the middle is left for promenaders, and
when the military band is playing, which it does two or three times a
week, the concourse is immense, and the scene very lively and charming,
enabling one to realise the saying of Bonaparte, “The Place of St. Mark
is a saloon of which the sky is worthy to serve as a ceiling.”

Having enjoyed the sweet strains discoursed by the military band to our
heart’s content, we took our departure, my companion to his ship, and I
to my hotel.

The following day was occupied in various ways by Dr. Kilkelly and
myself. In the first place we, of course, paid a visit to the Palace
of the Doges. If those walls could speak, how many tales of horror and
cruelty they could unfold! Our visit to some portions of the Palace
enabled us to vividly imagine some of them. Of course, in many of the
trials here, whatever may be thought of the sentence inflicted, guilt,
and that of a heavy kind, was proved against the accused. The place was
not always a slaughter-house for innocence, a butchery for men guilty of
light offence. Grave crimes against the State were here disclosed, and
the memory especially dwells on that night in the April of 1855, when
Marino Faliero, a traitor to the Government of which he was the head,
was arraigned before his old companions in office, and when the sword
of justice, covered with crape, was placed on the throne which he had
been wont to fill. A very minute inspection of the Doge’s Palace was
not practicable, for two reasons; one was want of time, the other the
impatience of my friend. Whilst in the Council Chamber of the Senate,
and for a minute or so looking at the largest painting I ever saw in
my life, “The Day of Judgment,” my hasty friend seized me by the arm,
exclaiming, “Come along, do;” and soon afterwards, when I was deeply
engaged in the futile endeavour _apparently_ of dislocating my neck by
looking at the painted ceilings, and getting up the requisite enthusiasm
for the marvellous productions of some of the masterpieces of Titian,
Paulo Veronese, and Tintoretto, I was told to “Come along, docthor. Sure
ye’ll have a crick in yer neck, and not be able to eat yer dinner at
all, at all, if ye stand looking at the ceiling in that kind of way;”
and so I allowed my volatile friend to rush me through the Palace of
the Doges, coming away with a hazy recollection of thousands of books,
wondrous paintings, the Council Chamber of the Senate, before whom an
undefended prisoner had formerly appeared; the Council of Ten, where he
generally got deeper in the mire; the Council of Three, whose decrees
were like the laws of the Medes and Persians; and, finally, the dungeon,
or condemned cell, just by one end of the Bridge of Sighs, where he was
strangled within, I think, three days of his condemnation. I was also
shown a dungeon, but not so low down as the condemned cell, where no
ray of light could be admitted, but where the poor wretch had a stone
slab, such as we have in our cellars, to lie upon, and let into the wall
was an opening through which the Grand Inquisitor could calmly gaze on
the torturing process produced by the rack and thumb-screw, and other
ingenious but painful arrangements constructed for blood-letting. Some
of the blood of deceased victims was shown to me on the walls, possibly
like the blood of Rizzio on the floor in Holyrood Palace, renewed once
a year. Of course there were many objects of great interest in the
Doge’s Palace that I should have, no doubt, made many notes of had I
been by myself, but mental notes were all I was permitted to take. Many
people give a free rein to their fancy, and argue much on the origin
of species. This is a free country, and I may form my own idea of the
General Post-Office. Suppose I were to say that it originated from the
Doge’s Palace? but fortunately for us, with a more agreeable class of
men as letter-carriers. I remember to have seen a lion, griffin, or
“goblin damned,” at the head of one staircase, with open mouth, whose
sole object was to receive accusations, true and false, against citizens
of the State, and woe betide him if he came before the Council of Three,
from whom there was no appeal. Here our accusers have to prove us guilty,
there the accused had to prove himself innocent; and I doubt not that,
in those dark ages of cruelty, such a mode had its inconveniences,
necessitating a considerable amount of trouble for nothing on the part of
the accused.

We passed on from the Doge’s Palace to St. Mark’s. This church is very
ancient; it was begun in the year 829, and after a fire rebuilt in the
year 976. It was ornamented with mosaics and marble in 1071. Its form is
of Eastern origin, and it is said its architects, who were ordered by the
Republic to spare no expense, and to erect an edifice superior in size
and splendour to anything else, took Santa Sophia, in Constantinople, for
their model, and seem to have imitated its form, its domes, and its bad
taste. But if riches can compensate the absence of beauty, the Church of
St. Mark possesses a sufficient share to supply the deficiency, as it is
ornamented with the spoils of Constantinople, and displays a profusion of
the finest marbles, of alabaster, onyx, emerald, and of all the splendid
jewellery of the East. The celebrated bronze horses stand on the portico
facing the Piazza. These horses are supposed to be the work of Lysippus;
they ornamented successively different triumphal arches at Rome, were
transported by Constantine to his new city, and conveyed thence by
Venetians, when they took and plundered it in 1206. They were erected on
marble pedestals over the portico of St. Mark, where they stood nearly
six hundred years, a trophy of the power of the Republic, until they
were removed to Paris by Napoleon in the year 1797, and placed on stone
pedestals behind the Palace of the Tuileries, where they remained some
time, until they were again restored to Venice. In St. Mark’s I was shown
two pillars of alabaster, two of jasper, and two of verde antique, said
to have been brought from King Solomon’s temple, also two magnificent
doors, inlaid with figures of gold and silver, and a very large crucifix
of gold and silver, brought from Santa Sophia. I was also shown the
tomb of St. Mark the Evangelist. How true all this is I cannot say, but
perhaps many of my readers would like to know why St. Mark should be so
much thought of in Venice, so much so as to become the patron saint, and
have his name given to the most celebrated and splendid of its churches.
Over a thousand years ago—to be precise, in the year eight hundred and
twenty-nine—two Venetian merchants, named Bano and Rustico, then at
Alexandria, contrived, either by bribery or by stratagem, to purloin
the body of St. Mark, at that time in the possession of Mussulmen, and
to convey it to Venice. On its arrival it was transported to the Ducal
Palace, and deposited, by the then Doge, in his own chapel. St. Mark was
shortly after declared the patron and protector of the Republic; and the
lion, which, in the mystic vision of Ezekiel, is supposed to represent
this evangelist, was emblazoned on its standards and elevated on its
towers. The Church of St. Mark was erected immediately after this event,
and the saint has ever since retained his honours. But the reader will
learn with surprise that notwithstanding these honours the body of the
Evangelist was, in a very short space of time, either lost or _privately
sold_ by a tribune of the name of Carozo, who had usurped the dukedom,
and to support himself against the legitimate Doge, is supposed to have
plundered the treasury and to have alienated some of the most valuable
articles. Since that period the existence of the body of St. Mark has
never been publicly ascertained, though the Venetians firmly maintain
that it is still in their possession, and, as I said before, positively
show the tomb which, they say, covers him.

Our next visit was to the arsenal. This occupies an entire island, and is
fortified, not only by its ramparts, but by the surrounding sea; it is
spacious, commodious, and magnificent.

Before the gate stand two vast pillars, one on each side, and two immense
lions of marble, which formerly adorned the Piræus of Athens. They are
attended by two others of smaller size, all, as the inscription informs
us, “Triumphali manu Piræo direpta” (“Torn from the Piræus by the hand of
Victory”). The staircase in the principal building is of white marble,
down which the French (who invaded Venice) rolled cannon balls, an act of
wanton mischief quite inexcusable, at the same time they dismantled the
Bucentaur, the famous State galley of the Republic—a very Vandal-like act.

Venice, when in the zenith of its fame, might justly be said to bear
a striking resemblance to Rome. The same spirit of liberty, the
same patriot passion, the same firmness, and the same wisdom that
characterized the ancient Romans seemed to pervade every member of the
rising State, and at that time it might truly be said of Venice—

Italia’s empress! queen of land and sea!
Rival of Rome, and Roman majesty!
Thy citizens are kings; to thee we owe
Freedom, the choicest gift of Heaven below.
By thee barbaric gloom was chased away,
And dawn’d on all our lands a brighter day.

But _tempora mutantur_.

Every evening during our stay in Venice, just about the time we finished
dining in the evening, a gondola full of serenaders would take up their
position just beneath our open window, and sing some of their charming
Italian ballads in a very pleasing style, undisturbed by the rattling
of cabs and omnibuses. Indeed, it seemed very strange, as we wandered
about this town of waterways, spanned by about 360 bridges, never to see
a vehicle or living thing except human beings. Of course, the quietude
that reigned all round was very favourable to the serenaders. One very
favourite song, both with the serenaders and visitors, was called “Santa
Lucia.” This, I think, we had every night, for, if they left this out
of their programme, someone at the hotel would be certain to ask for it.
Venice, as all the world knows, is noted for its glass manufactories. To
one of these, owned by Dr. Salviati, my friend and I wended our steps.
We were much interested on going over the place, and much burdened on
coming out of it, as each of us emerged with an armful of purchases. It
was fortunate for me that my stay was of short duration, as each time I
returned to my hotel after a stroll, I generally did so with an armful of
purchases of some description or other.

Dr. Kilkelly, whose residence was in Dublin, had arranged with me that
we should return to England by a different route to that by which I had
come by. We intended to travel through the Brenner Pass to Munich, then
to Bingen on the Rhine, down that river to Cologne, and on to England,
but as we were to have a grand serenade on the Grand Canal at night,
we postponed the journey until the morrow. Soon after this, whilst
walking along, a large poster of the _Standard_ newspaper attracted
our attention, announcing “The Murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish.” A
paper was soon procured, and there we read the account of his murder
and that of Mr. Burke’s, dastardly deeds that all respectable Irishmen
blush to think of, and which excited the indignation of my friend to
boiling-point. This at once altered his plans entirely. Said he, “I
must start home to-morrow. As head of the family I must get to Dublin at
once; perhaps the place will be under martial law.” I then relinquished
the idea of taking our route, not caring to go by myself, and resolved to
spend another day or so in Venice, returning _viâ_ Turin.

In the evening the doctor, Mrs. and Miss P., and myself made our way to
the water-side, with the intention of engaging a gondola to witness this
grand aquatic _fête_. How we should have got on with the gondolier I
don’t know, as he could only speak his own language; but, fortunately,
I knew just sufficient Italian to pull us out of the difficulty. In
whatever country I remain a few days, my first business is to know the
value of the coins and be able to count in the language of the country.
This I have always found extremely useful, particularly in Turkey,
where the coinage is very confusing to a stranger. A piaster is worth
about 2d. There they have silver, copper, metallic, and paper piasters;
and unless one knows all about the rate of exchanging a Medjidie, the
trusting individual may possibly and probably be the victim of misplaced
confidence.

Having secured our gondola, we pulled up opposite Danielli’s Hotel, a
little way above the Doge’s Palace. Here we found a large floating
stage, occupied by those who were to take part in the serenade. It was
profusely and very prettily decorated with festoons of flowers and
evergreens, among which were interlaced a vast number of variegated
lamps (the centre piece forming quite a tree of these little lamps).
Under this stood the conductor, whilst around him was the orchestra
and singers. This great stage started from opposite Danielli’s Hotel,
drawn by two boats. Following it were hundreds of gondolas jostling one
another on the Grand Canal, each one trying to get as near as possible
to the stage. Those on shore took as much interest in the proceedings
as those on the canals, for at every stoppage—and these occurred very
frequently—a performance took place. Opposite each stoppage there was a
grand pyrotechnic display by those on shore. Our first halt was opposite
the Palace of the Doges and the Piazetta of St. Mark, where numberless
Roman candles, Bengal lights, rockets, &c., were let off, brilliantly
illuminating the far-famed old Palace, Piazza, Campanile, St. Mark’s,
and all the surroundings, and so on past the hotels (once gorgeous
marble palaces); the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, on the opposite
shore; the Palazzo Foscari, the Academy of Arts, and other palaces,
winding up with a grand scene at the Ponte Rialto. The time occupied
was about three hours, from 9 until 12 p.m. No amount of word-painting
can convey to the reader an adequate description of the scene, which
was most enjoyable throughout. It was a beautiful summer’s night—no
moon, not a cloud; the blue sky studded with bright twinkling stars,
the stage adorned with flowers, evergreens, and hundreds of variegated
lamps; no sound but the splash of the gondoliers’ oar and jostling of
the gondolas; a stop, then sweet strains of music arising from stringed
and wind instruments and two or three dozen well-trained male and female
voices; and every now and then the banks on either side lighting up, by
the illuminations, the grand old churches and fine old marble palaces of
the old Venetian nobility, to each of which is attached a history. It
was a scene which I shall always remember, but which I feel quite unable
to describe as I should wish. Our hotel was soon reached when all was
over, and I went to bed, lulled to sleep by the sweet Italian music of
gondoliers which came floating on the midnight air as they returned home
after this grand serenade.

On the following day my friend, the doctor, started for England. Soon
after his departure Mr. P. and I hired a gondola, and paid a visit to
the Academy of Arts, some of the principal churches, palaces, and
various places of interest, and saw some grand old sculpture, the tombs
of Canova and Titian, and paintings by Rubens, Titian, Tintoretto,
Paulo Veronese and others. I had resolved on the morrow to forsake this
dreamland under the clear blue sky of Italy, and once more rouse myself
to the stern realities of life. Accordingly, I found myself in the train
next day at 9 a.m., with a ticket for Paris. Passing Verona, Padua, and
other interesting places, I arrived in Paris at 5.30 p.m. on the evening
of the next day. A day’s rest there, and I was on my way to dear old
England, which I reached in due time. A trip abroad is mentally and
bodily beneficial, but after wanderings in various countries, I have come
to the conclusion that the most comfortable place to _permanently_ reside
in, provided one is not absolutely devoid of the “almighty dollar”—as the
Americans would say—is “perfidious Albion.”

I have travelled through the waving forests of Austria, miles of charming
vineclad slopes in Hungary, acres of maize, rice, and tobacco fields near
Salonica, the beautiful cypress groves of Scutari, near Constantinople,
roamed over the wild mountains of Bosnia and Montenegro, through classic
Greece and Italy, and traversed the burning sands of Africa; but,
go where I will, nowhere is the general appearance of the country so
beautiful as in old England, where we find the little cottage of the
rustic so prettily embowered amidst fruit trees, shrubs and flowers,
whilst all around are undulating green fields, rippling brooks, and
winding rivers. Nowhere else is there anything to compare to our pretty
country lanes and variegated hedgerows, covered with sweet-smelling
hawthorn, the wild rose, honeysuckle, and the red berries of the ash,
whilst the banks are adorned with foxgloves and beautiful ferns, or
white with primroses, cowslips, and a thousand other wild flowers which
surround fields of waving golden ears of corn and the well-wooded estates
of the landed gentry, that in turn give shelter to the fox, who will
afford sport in the winter, and to the hares, rabbits, partridges, and
pheasants, who will assist in satiating our gastronomic propensities.

It is an Englishman’s privilege to grumble, and whilst living here we
often find a great deal to grumble about, in politics particularly; but I
don’t think there are many who, having travelled abroad continuously for
six, twelve, or eighteen months, will not say with me, on returning home
once more, “England, with all thy faults, I love thee still.”

“A plain unvarnished tale I have unfolded,” and as such, at this
particular time, I trust it will meet with the approbation of the
_majority_ of my readers.

Many faults, I am sure, may be picked out, as I have not only written,
but revised the book myself, instead of employing (as some do) a skilled
and experienced reader. Even had I done so I should still be able to say—

“Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.”